Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Afghanistan and the surge skeptics

Photo

For months U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have been asking for more troops and Washington has been increasingly receptive. Today, we turned the spotlight on the skeptics in this story.

How much heed should President Barack Obama pay to their concerns? As a presidential candidate, he promised to send more troops to Afghanistan and he has made the war there the top U.S. military priority. But are more U.S. forces the answer to Afghanistan’s worsening violence? If so, how many more?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to make a recommendation to the president on Afghanistan in the coming days.  But Gates has already publicly supported a request by General David McKiernan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, for up to 30,000 more troops.

Opponents of a big buildup of forces have some alternative proposals:

– pay tribal leaders or warlords to keep al Qaeda out of their areas.

– focus international efforts on improving infrastructure and providing humanitarian aid.

A fresh start with Russia: what’s the trade-off?

Photo

Russia has reversed its decision to station missiles in the Western outpost of Kaliningrad, next door to the European Union, according to Interfax.

The move would be the clearest signal so far of the start of a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations, which could be one of the major changes in U.S. President Barack Obama’s first year in office. We don’t know what commitment, if any, Obama may have given to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the missile shield (the two spoke by telephone earlier this week).

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and the breakdown of the balance of power

Photo

Keeping track of the many countries with a stake in Afghanistan -- and the shifting alliances between them -- is beginning to feel awfully like one of those school history lessons when you were supposed to understand the complex and tenuous balance of power whose breakdown led to World War One.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer became the latest to call for a regional solution to Afghanistan when he said this week that the United States and its NATO allies must directly engage with Iran if they are to win the war there. “If we are going to succeed in this game, we need to be playing on the right field,” he said. “And that means a more regional approach. To my mind we need a discussion that brings in all the relevant regional players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and, yes, Iran.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The scramble for Central Asia

Photo

Central Asia is much in demand these days, whether as a transit route for U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan or for its rich resources, including oil and gas.

So it's worth noting that India has been hosting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its guest of honour at its Republic Day celebrations while signing a bunch of trade deals in the process. According to reports in the Indian media, including in the Business Standardthe Week and the Times of India,  India is seeking supplies of uranium for its nuclear plants and access to Kazakhstan's oil and gas and in return would be expected to support Kakazhstan's bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation. (India's state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) said on Saturday it had signed a deal to explore for oil and gas in Kazakhstan.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

U.S. missile strikes on Pakistan : more of the same under Obama or worse to come?

Photo

The first U.S. missiles have struck Pakistan since U.S. President Barack Obama  took office, dispelling any possibility that he might relent on these raids that have so angered Pakistanis, many of whom think it only engenders reprisal attacks from militants on their cities.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari protested to the U.S. ambassador over Friday's twin raids in South and North Waziristan and  newspaper editorialists and commentators are worried this is just a foretaste of things to come. The strikes, the first since Jan 2, have led the Dawn newspaper to recall Obama's statements during the presidential camapaign when he repeatedly said he would "take out high value terrorist targets" inside Pakistan if it was unable or unwilling to do so.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s South Asian envoy and the Kashmir conundrum

Photo

Earlier this month, I wrote that the brief given to a South Asian envoy by President Barack Obama could prove to be the first test of the success of Indian diplomacy after the Mumbai attacks. At issue was whether the envoy would be asked to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether the brief would be extended to India, reflecting comments made by Obama during his election campaign that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would ease tensions across the region.

That question has been resolved - publicly at least -- with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. No mention of India or Kashmir.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India-U.S: advancing a transformed relationship

Photo

In the space of a decade, the United States and India have travelled far in a relationship clouded by the  Cold War when they were on opposite sides.

From U.S sanctions on India for its nuclear tests in 1998 to a civilian nuclear energy deal that opens access to international nuclear technology and finance, while allowing New Delhi to retain its nuclear weapons programme is a stunning reversal of policy and one that decisively transforms ties.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistani Taliban force girls’ schools to close

Photo

Taliban militants have banned female education in the northwest Pakistan valley of Swat, depriving more than 40,000 girls of schooling. Last month, the Taliban warned parents against sending their daughters to school, saying female education was "unIslamic".  The warning was reiterated by a close aide to militant leader Mullah Fazlullah in a message broadcast through an illegal FM radio station on Friday night. Government schools have been shut down and some 300 private schools due to reopen next month after the winter break will probably remain closed, a senior official said.

The development highlights the extent to which the Taliban have extended their influence from the tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan itself, and their willingness to challenge Pakistanis' way of life.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

Photo

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

What price Russian cooperation on Afghanistan?

Photo

According to the Washington Post, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees opportunities for the United States to cooperate with Russia on Afghanistan. The newspaper says Gates, a longtime Russia analyst during his years with the CIA, sees Moscow as less of a threat than do many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment. "Russia is very worried about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan and has been supportive in terms of providing alternative routes for Europeans in particular to get equipment and supplies into Afghanistan," it quoted him as saying.

The story is interesting in the context of the United States searching for new supply lines through Central Asia into Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan before it sends in thousands more troops.  "The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass," the New York Times said.

  •