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from Afghan Journal:

UPDATE- A glimmer of hope in Afghanistan

                AFGHANISTAN/                                         

(Amending the article with the correct name of the organisation which conducted the research as also with more details on the survey itself}

The Asia Foundation has released its annual survey of Afghanistan and a key finding is that the Afghan people are a bit more optimistic about their country than the rest of the world is, at this point of time.  The survey found that 42 percent of the people felt Afghanistan was heading in the right direction, up from 38 percent in 2008, and mainly because of better security conditions.

In fact each year the number of respondents who think security has improved has gone up, even though the Taliban insurgency is at its worst in 2009.  Some 44 percent of those surveyed this year said they felt safer, up from 31 percent in 2006. More respondents in 2009 also mentioned reconstruction and rebuilding (36%) and opening of schools for girls (21%) as reasons for optimism than in previous years.

from Afghan Journal:

Denying Afghanistan to al Qaeda; is that really the key ?

AFGHANISTAN/Much of the rationale for the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has to do with making sure that it doesn't become a haven for militant groups once again. As President Barack Obama weighs U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal's recommendation for 40,000 more troops at a time of fading public support for the war in Afghanistan, some people are questioning the basic premise that America must remain militarily committed there so that al Qaeda doesn't creep back under the protection of the Taliban.

Richard N.Haass, the president of the Council for Foreign Relations, kicked off the debate this month, arguing that al Qaeda didn't really "require Afghan real estate to constitute a regional or global threat". Terrorists head to areas of least resistance, and if it is not Afghanistan, they will choose other unstable countries such as Somalia or Yemen, if it hasn't  happened already, he argues. And the United States cannot conceivably secure all the terrorist havens in the world.

from Afghan Journal:

Pomegranates, dust, rose gardens and war

s1On a hilltop in central Kabul, the relics of Soviet armoured vehicles sit in the shadow of an incongruously vast and empty swimming pool. A tower of diving boards looks down into the concrete carcass built by the Russians. Boys play football there and on Fridays the basin is used for dog fights; combat is the only option for the canine gladiators, as they cannot climb up the sheer, steep sides. From the vantage point you can see the city's graveyards, its bright new mosques, the narco-palaces of drug-funded business potentates and the spread of modest brick homes where most Kabulis live. It's a favourite spot for reporters when they need to escape the press of urgent events and get cleaner air in their lungs. 

For years journalists have sought to tell stories that go beyond the conflict in Afghanistan. We've tried to portray this country - the crossroads of central Asia, the summer home of Moghul emperors, the cockpit of clashing empires - as more than a place of blood, deprivation and extremism. Amid the dust and the heat it has its oases of tranquility, its laughter and its charms. From the market stalls of sweet pomengranates that line the road in autumn to the rose gardens newly planted in central Kabul, Afghanistan is a place of thorny history, cultural complexity and spartan beauty.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attack in Iran: What are the links to Pakistan?

A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi'ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country's most powerful military institution.

Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?

Afghanistan’s protracted election sours the mood

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An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It’s a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.

Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog’s plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how ‘hanging chads’ and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It’s that kind of agony.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: is it time to ditch “AfPak”?

One of the arguments frequently put forward for sending more western troops to Afghanistan is that western failure there will destabilise Pakistan.

Very roughly summarised, this 21st century version of the domino theory suggests that a victory for Islamist militants in Afghanistan would so embolden them that they might then overrun Pakistan - a far more dangerous proposition given its nuclear weapons.

Afghanistan’s angry Norwegian bites back

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It is both fascinating and horrifying to overhear a bad argument between two old friends. The drama is compelling but you shudder at the pain of each wounding criticism.

I doubt Kai Eide, the U.N.’s top man in Afghanistan, will be holidaying again with his former deputy, Peter Galbraith, after a lacerating row between them over electoral fraud. Once the best of friends, the two have fallen out spectacularly over what should have been done to prevent the ballot stuffing, vote rigging and intrigue that Western powers now publicly admit badly marred the August 20 poll in Afghanistan. Were the stakes not so high, the fight could be brushed off as the consequence of clashing egos and the vagaries of human nature. But the dispute has cast doubt on whether any outcome of the vote can be considered legitimate. A second round may still happen, depending on a recount of suspect votes likely to conclude in a few days. On current trends President Hamid Karzai will emerge the winner, but will look like spoiled goods in the eyes of many in the Obama administration. Obama needs a credible political partner in Kabul to help him sell to Americans the cost in blood and treasure of whatever approach he eventually decides to take on continuing the counter-insurgency fight in Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan blames Pakistan for embassy bombing; India holds fire

Afghanistan has wasted little time in accusing Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being behind a bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday.

Asked by PBS news channel whether Kabul blamed Pakistan for the bombing, Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Jawad said: "Yes, we do. We are pointing the finger at the Pakistan intelligence agency, based on the evidence on the ground and similar attacks taking place in Afghanistan."

Are Pentagon contracts funding the Taliban?

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An Afghan contractor stitches name badges for German armed forces Bundeswehr and NATO allied forces at his shop at Camp Marmal, in Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan April 15, 2009. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Jean MacKenzie covers Afghanistan for GlobalPost. She is program director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Afghanistan, which she’s held for four years. This article originally appeared in GlobalPost.
KABUL — It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Western Afghanistan, a new worry ?

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       By Golnar Motevalli

Herat province in west Afghanistan is seen as one of the country’s safest areas. It is one of the largest, most prosperous Afghan provinces — its capital’s wide, smooth and tree-lined boulevards are a far cry from Kabul’s crumbling skyline.

But the past few months have seen a sharp increase in violence.

Last month a cabinet minister and former militia leader, Ismail Khan, was the target of a bomb attack in Herat city. A day earlier, Herati traders took to the streets to protest against rising insecurity in the province.

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