Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Afghan Journal:

Can the West salvage Karzai’s reputation?

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That sure was fast.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told American TV audiences that Afghan President Hamid Karzai needed to take steps to fight graft, including setting up a new anti-corruption task force, if he wants to keep U.S. support. Less than 24 hours later, there was Karzai’s interior minister at a luxury hotel in Kabul -- flanked by the U.S. and British ambassadors -- announcing exactly that. A new major crimes police task force, anti-corruption prosecution unit and special court will be set up, at least the third time that Afghan authorities and their foreign backers have launched special units to tackle corruption.

There are just a couple of days left before Karzai is inaugurated for a new term as president. Perhaps a few more days after that, U.S. President Barack Obama will announce whether he is sending tens of thousands of additional troops to join the 68,000 Americans and 40,000 NATO-led allies fighting there.

A fraud-tainted election has wrecked Karzai’s reputation in the Western countries whose troops defend him. Support for the eight-year-old war has plummeted over the past few months, even as the death tolls have reached their highest levels yet. For better or worse, Karzai’s Western backers know they are stuck with the veteran leader for another five years, and need to resurrect his reputation fast.

Regardless of how many extra troops Obama sends, the war in Afghanistan is the most important foreign policy issue of his presidency. If he is going to maintain support at home, he needs to show the American people that protecting the Karzai government is a cause worth sending their sons and daughters to die for. That means, after weeks of grumbling about Karzai in public, you should expect to see U.S. officials accentuating the positive in coming days. VIPs who stayed away will be heading to Kabul for the inauguration. Karzai’s new government, expected not to be much different from his old government, will nonetheless be welcomed as an improvement. Hands will be shaken and warm words spoken.

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.

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.

from Jeffrey Jones:

Dalai Lama: Afghan war a failure

    The Dalai Lama believes the war in Afghanistan has so far been a failure, saying military intervention creates additional complications for the country.
    The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, making his first visit to the Western Canadian city of Calgary in 30 years, said foreign military intervention against Taliban insurgents has only served to make the fundamentalist group more determined.  
    The war has been "so far, I think, a failure," he told reporters, adding that he could not yet judge its outcome. "Using military forces, the other hard-liners become even more hard ... and due to civilian casualties the other side also sometimes is getting more sympathy from local people." 
    U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing calls to boost troop levels and alter strategy to reverse what officials have said is a deteriorating military situation. But the Dalai Lama said it would all have been unnecessary had the United States and the European Union spent more on aid to the region.
    "Instead of spending billions and billions of dollars for killing they should have spent billions .... on education and health in rural areas and underdeveloped areas. (If they had) I think the picture would be different."

-- Written by Scott Haggett

(Photo: The Dalai Lama speaks at a conference in Calgary, Alberta, on October 1, 2009. REUTERS/Todd Korol)

from Commentaries:

Shelved missile shield tests NATO unity

foghAfter just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration's decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other "rogue state". But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO's new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.

from The Great Debate UK:

Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet

richard-kemp2- Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, an account of British military operations in Afghanistan published by Penguin. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Disillusionment with the inability of the Kabul administration to govern fairly or to significantly reduce violence played a role in the reportedly low turnout at the polls in Helmand.

Keeping an eye on the Taliban

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By Jonathon Burch
 
“Contact at Woqab. They’ve made contact,” says Devos calmly before running to the edge of the rooftop to have a better look into the distance with his binoculars.

“What do you mean they’ve made “contact”?” I ask, trying to see where his binoculars are pointed. “Small arms fire at Woqab,” he says pointing beyond a line of trees in the distance. Suddenly I feel exposed, standing in the open, three storeys off the ground.
 
The place is Musa Qala in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province and Devos is a 26-year-old soldier from Nepal serving in the British Army’s 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles. His job is to man the lookout on top of the British base inside the district centre, about a 30-minute helicopter flight across the desert from Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand.

Gaza shows Kosovo “doctrine” doesn’t apply

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Protesters staged large demonstrations in Western capitals 10 years ago to urge governments to intervene to stop Serb forces killing civilians in Kosovo.Despite having no United Nations mandate, NATO went to war for the first time and bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop what it called the Yugoslav army’s disproportionate use of force in its offensive against separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas.”We have a moral duty,” said then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as bombers took off on March 24, 1999 to “bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe”.The intervention helped launch a doctrine of international “Responsibility to Protect” civilians in conflicts. Advocates of “R2P” proposed humanitarian intervention in Myanmar in 2007 and military force in Zimbabwe in 2008.But it never happened and the likelihood of this doctrine being adopted universally now in a UN declaration is slim, as was shown by the Gaza war that began two months ago.On Dec. 27, Israeli bombers went into action over Gaza. As reports of civilian deaths grew, protesters staged rallies in Western capitals to demand leaders act to end the offensive against Islamist Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.Critics accused Israel of using “disproportionate” force, just as many said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had done.But intervention in Gaza was impossible politically and militarily unimaginable. Unlike Serbia, Israel is not seen in the West as a rogue state and widescale ethnic cleansing was not under way in Gaza.Solana visited the enclave on Friday as foreign policy chief of the European Union, which seeks to foster peace in the Middle East through “soft power” — diplomacy and aid, not intervention of the kind he advocated as head of the NATO alliance.NATO never embraced the “responsibility to protect” concept, arguing that Kosovo, which most allies have subsequently recognised as an independent state, was a unique case that should not set a precedent.Soft power may eventually mean encouraging talks with Hamas — which is now shunned by the West. In an open letter published this week, a group of former foreign ministers urged a change in that policy, saying peace depends on talking to the militants.But with rockets from Gaza again being fired daily into Israel, the prospect of a breakthrough soon seems bleak as right-wing prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu tries to form a government.Viewing war damage in Gaza on Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store spoke of “senseless destruction.” He blamed Hamas for starting the conflict, but said Israel’s response “goes beyond what international law allows.”Serb forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war ignored the idea of  “proportionality” on the battlefield. They were sure no army would willingly tie its own hands in the face of insurgency. They mortared, burned and raided “guerrilla” villages to driveoff civilians and deprive the rebels of cover.On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal in The Hague sentenced two Serbian generals to 22 years in jail for war crimes in Kosovo. Serbia handed them over under Western pressure.Israel openly assured its soldiers during the Gaza offensive that they would not face such prosecution. Discussing tactics for a future conflict, one senior Israeli general also dismissed “proportionality” as a deterrent.”We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction,” said Northern Command chief Gadi Eisenkot.”This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has been authorised,” he told daily Yedioth Ahronoth ast October.Defending Israel’s action in Gaza, President Shimon Peres reminded NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that NATO’s own bombing of Serbia killed “hundreds of civilians”.Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mocked the idea that he should ask soldiers to fight an evenly-matched battle in which a few hundred might be killed simply to win international approval for a war in which Hamas was fighting in heavily populated areas.But scholars of international law say proportionality does not mean a “fair fight” or balanced death toll, let alone making sure no civilian dies. It requires belligerents to use weapons that distinguish civilians from military targets and combatants.According to Gaza figures — which Israel says are suspect– some 600 of 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Of 13 Israelis killed during the 22-day war, 10 were soldiers.Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Israeli rights group B’Tselem have called for investigations.

What will Biden say? I know, Sarkozy says

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To many of the hundreds of defence experts, heads of state, ministers and journalists at the Munich Security Conference, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s speech was the keenly awaited highlight of the three-day gathering in Bavaria. Biden, on his first trip to Europe in his new role, was expected to lay out the foreign policy priorities of President Barack Obama’s administration to European allies, including Washington’s future policy on Afghanistan and Iran.

But well before Biden took the stage in the plush Munich hotel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the audience that he, at least, was already in the know about Biden’s speech. As Biden watched on from the front row, Sarkozy deviated from his speech on France’s policies towards NATO and the defence priorities of the European Union, and said with a smirk: ”I already know what the vice-president will say … because he sent me his manuscript in advance. “That’s part of good management,” Sarkozy said to loud laughter from the audience. Biden smiled, listening to Sarkozy’s comments over headphones through a translator.

Afghanistan and the surge skeptics

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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?

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