Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pune bombing unlikely to derail India-Pakistan talks

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german bakeryThis weekend's bombing which killed nine people in the Indian city of Pune -- the first major attack since the 2008 assault on Mumbai -- is unlikely to derail plans for the foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan to hold talks on Feb. 25.

The Hindu newspaper -- which is well-informed about the thinking in the prime minister's office where India's policy towards Pakistan is decided -- says there will be no rethinking about the planned talks

"India has no intention of allowing terrorists to dictate the scope and schedule of diplomatic interaction with Pakistan and will not let Saturday’s bombing of a bakery in Pune derail the February 25 meeting of foreign secretaries, highly placed sources told The Hindu," it says. "With investigations into the attack still under way, officials said on Sunday there would be no 'knee-jerk reaction'. India knows the situation is complex, they added."

Indian officials have been circumspect about who was behind the bombing. Early candidates are the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) accused of masterminding the Mumbai assault (for a factbox on the group see here) and the Indian Mujahideen, an indigenous group with close ties to both the LeT and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“My Life with the Taliban” – on study and Islamic values

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zaeefIn  "My Life with the Taliban",  Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.

"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On India-Pakistan thaw and the changing Afghan dynamics

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siachensaluteThere is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible. The argument, much touted by Washington think-tankers, was that Pakistan would not turn against Afghan Taliban militants on its western border as long as it believed it might need to use them to counter India's growing influence in Afghanistan, and as long as it felt the need to keep the bulk of its army on its eastern border with India.

Even in the middle of last year, when Pakistan and India made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive peace talks which had been frozen since the attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, the possibility of a "grand bargain" from Kashmir to Kabul still carried some resonance.

from Afghan Journal:

The agony of Pakistan

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PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE/

It must take a particularly determined lot to bomb a bus full of pilgrims, killing scores of them, and then following the wounded to a hospital to unleash a second attack to kill some more. Karachi's twin explosions on Friday, targeting Shia Muslims on their way to a religious procession were on par with some of the worst atrocities committed in recent months.

It also came just two days after a bombing in Lower Dir, near Swat, in which a convoy of soldiers including U.S. servicemen were targeted while on their way to open a girls school. Quite apart from the fact that the U.S. soldiers were the obvious targets, the renewed violence along with fresh reports of flogging by the Taliban calls into question the broader issue of negotiating with hard-core Islamists as proposed by the Afghan government just over the border.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Afghanistan: fighting over the terms of a settlement

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karzai londonAt last week's London conference, two of the great truisms of warfare punched their way to the surface. The first is that wars are fought as much on the home front as on the battlefield. With public support for the war in Afghanistan ebbing away, the United States and its allies in NATO have shifted from seeking outright victory to looking for an exit strategy that will allow them to start bringing home their troops next year.  Rather as the British did after their two failed invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century, they are sending in reinforcements in a display of military might which they hope will secure better terms in an eventual settlement.

The other truism is that if you can't win outright victory on the battlefield, then you have to negotiate with your enemies. President Hamid Karzai set the ball rolling by announcing he would hold a peace council to which, according to an Afghan government spokesman, the Taliban leadership would be invited.  Karzai has made such suggestions before, and it is by no means clear the Taliban leadership will send representatives. What was different this time, however, was the context.  Karzai's suggestion no longer met with the same resistance from war-weary governments, who stressed that it was up to the Afghans themselves to lead the process of reconciliation.  He also coupled his call for a peace council with an appeal to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to bring peace to Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is a trusted interlocutor between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership; Pakistan is the only country which still has some measure of leverage over them. Thus Karzai's call for a loya jirga, though not dramatic in itself, became emblematic of a broader shift towards seeking a political settlement to end the war.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On Taliban/AQ ties and the Afghanistan exit strategy

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british soldierVahid Brown at the CTC Sentinel has a new article (pdf document) out arguing that the relationship between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden before 9/11 was considerably more fractious than it was made out to be.  The main source of argument was between the Taliban's Afghan nationalist agenda and bin Laden's view of global jihad, and in particular his determination to attack the United States, he says.

Based on an account by an insider, he challenges the assumption that bin Laden personally swore an oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar. The account by Egyptian jihadist Mustafa Hamid, better known as Abul-Walid al-Masri, was first published in jihadist forums in 2007 but gained little attention outside specialist websites.

from Afghan Journal:

America, don’t “leave us in the lurch” in Afghanistan

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(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

One of the first things that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did during his trip to India last week was to assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States did not intend to cut and run from Afghanistan.  America was committed to Afghanistan for the long-term, he said, trying to calm Indian concerns over the Obama administration's stated plans to begin  withdrawing troops from July 2011. 

It struck me as quite remarkable that India, long a prickly nation opposed to superpower presence in the region, had so openly pinned its hopes on a prolonged U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Quite a change from the time  it would rail against the presence of such "extra-regional" powers.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: ditching “strategic depth”

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Indian farmer in front of Taj MahalKamran Shafi has a column up at Dawn mocking Pakistan's old strategy of seeking "strategic depth" - the idea that in the event of war with India its military would be able to operate from Afghanistan to offset its disadvantage as a small country compared to its much bigger neighbour:

"Let us presume that the Indians are foolish enough to get distracted from educating their people, some of whom go to some of the best centres of learning in the world. Let us assume that they are idiotic enough to opt for war instead of industrialising themselves and meeting their economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world. Let us imagine that they are cretinous enough to go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and effectively put an immediate and complete end to their multi-million dollar tourism industry. Let us suppose that they lose all sense, all reason, and actually attack Pakistan and cut our country into half.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Kashmir gunbattle underscores India-Pakistan tensions

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srinagar hotelA nearly 24-hour gunbattle this week between militants and Indian security forces in the centre of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is a powerful reminder of the tensions in the region at the heart of enmity between India and Pakistan. Two people were killed along with the two militants -  one of whom was described by police as a Pakistani - in the biggest attack in Srinagar in two years.  Hundreds of people, who had become accustomed to relative calm after years of separatist violence, had to be rescued from nearby buildings.

The attack itself might or might not turn out to be an isolated incident.  But what is troubling is that it took place within the context of a deterioration in relations between India and Pakistan.

Allah, Antarctica and Ancient Inca-The best reads of 2009

When I have time to lavish on reading something other than news, I want to spend it on stories that leave me saying, “Wow!” A great read should tell readers something they don’t already know, enlighten them about the world and its people, inform them about the human condition. Readers should be moved to laughter, tears, anger, action through superb writing and extraordinary reporting.  Here are my picks for the best reads of 2009.

As Spain’s jobless lose homes, tensions mount

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A packet of cigarettes is enough to cause a fight among the Spaniards and immigrants shivering in the dark outside an emergency homeless shelter in Madrid, set up for a bitter winter and depression-era unemployment. Police push past jobless Romanian and Hungarian construction workers.  ”One day this place is going to explode,” says unemployed waiter Miguel Roa, a Spaniard.

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