Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Berlin Wall, 1961-1989, R.I.P

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There is something a bit bizarre, yet fascinating, about the way Berlin and the local media mark the anniversaries of the Berlin Wall’s construction on Aug. 13, 1961 and the anniversaries of its collapse on Nov. 9, 1989.

There are many of the same things each time: sombre speeches, fancy ceremonies, countless thousands of stories in the print and TV media and a general consensus that A) the Wall was a horrible thing B) the Communists who built it were loathsome liars C) its collapse was a  glorious moment in German history and D) its memory should serve as a global symbol of  the yearning for freedom.
Yet like Berlin itself, which has gone through what are probably the most dynamic changes of any big city in Europe in the last two decades, elements of the commemorations have been shifting over the years and the city’s view of the wall has also been transformed.  Incredibly enough, some Germans now miss the Wall – a few diehards both east and west who feel their standing of living has gone down since 1989 want it back the most (about 10 percent, according to a recent poll) . But many others, especially those too young to remember it, lament that there is so little left of it to see and feel.
Indeed, almost all of the Wall is gone. Yet 10 million tourists still come to Berlin each year looking for it. “Where’s the Wall?” is probably one of the most commonly asked questions by visitors. The answer – unfortunate or fortunate, depending on your point of view – is that there’s almost nothing left.
It was all torn down in a rush to obliterate the hated barrier in late 1989 and early 1990.  Only a few small segments were saved – one 80 metre-long section, for instance, behind the Finance Ministry that was saved thanks to one Greens politician who declared it to under “Denkmalschutz” – a listed monument. That enraged many Berliners at the time.
Despite the lack of Berlin Wall to look at and touch, a thriving cottage industry has grown up at some of the places where it once stood. You can get a “DDR” stamp in your passport if you want from a menacing looking soldier in an authentic East German border guard uniform (who appreciates tips) at Checkpoint Charlie or have your picture taken with others wearing Russian army uniforms. You can buy Wall souvenirs at many of the points where the Wall once stood.
Some leaders such as Mayor Klaus Wowereit now admit it might have been a mistake, from today’s point of view, to so hastily tear  down all but a few tiny bits of the Wall in 1989. “There’s a general complaint that the demolition of the Wall was a bit too extensive,” he told me recently. “That’s understandable from today’s point of view and it would probably have been better for tourists if more of it could have been preserved. But at the time we were all just so happy to see the Wall gone.”

Wowereit added, interestingly enough, the biggest divisions in Berlin today are in the media and in the political parties: Easterners still read east Berlin newspapers and west Berliners stick to west Berliner dailies while the Left party is often the strongest in the east and the conservative Christian Democrats are stronger in the west while his Social Democrats do fairly well in both halves of the city. “The typical Kurier reader is from the east and won’t set a foot in the west and the B.Z. reader won’t set foot in the east. The Berliner Zeitung is more in the east and the Tagesspiegel is more in the west. To keep sales up, they obviously have different focusses. It’s rare that they have the same topics on their front pages and I think that’s a bad thing. They play up the east-west differences. What’s typical Berlin and what unites this city is, however, that everyone gets worked up about everything that in the end isn’t anything very important. If there’s talk about tearing down the ICC (conference centre in west Berlin), then they applaud in the east and say ‘Our Palace of the Republic’ (an East Berlin government building) was torn down — it’s sort of like eye for eye. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s Berlin. It’s only a problem when people try to whip up those differences.”

Berlin has taken some steps in the last few years to restore some of the Wall for posterity and the all-important tourists, who bring a lot of badly revenue into the fiscally strapped city.  A whole cottage industry of books about the bits of the Wall that are still left has also emerged — inlcuding “The Berlin Wall Today, Ruins, Remnants, Remembrances.”  One of my favourite ways to see at least where the Wall was and small bits of it is the Berlin Wall Trail,  a 160-km bike path that follows the route of the Wall and offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s Cold War history.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan vs U.S. Dumbing down the drones debate

tribesmen2If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground.  That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.

Yet the heated  debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan - triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI - appears to be falling into a familiar pattern - keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive. 

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, a deterrent against India, but also United States ?

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Pakistan's nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal  to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes  from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama's 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that  some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country's  only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties

rayjmonddavisphotoWith the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship.  It was probably not the worst row -- remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded  by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.

But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention - an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Keeping Raymond Davis and Lashkar-e-Taiba in perspective

tajmumbaiAccording to the New York Times, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor arrested in Pakistan for shooting dead two Pakistanis in what he says was an act of self-defence, was working with a CIA team monitoring the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

The article, by Washington-based Mark Mazzetti, was not the first to make this assertion. The NYT itself had already raised it, while Christine Fair made a similar point in her piece for The AfPak Channel last week (with the intriguing detail that "though the ISI knew of the operation, the agency certainly would not have approved of it.")

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s debate on drones, lifting the secrecy

droneIn a rare admission of the effectiveness of drone strikes, a senior Pakistani military officer has said most of those killed are hard-core militants, including foreigners, according to Dawn newspaper.

It quotes Major-General Ghayur Mehmood as telling reporters at a briefing in Miramshah, in North Waziristan, that, “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

U.S.-Pakistan relations better than they look

raymond davisGiven the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.

At a strategic level, however, there's actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On U.S.-Taliban talks, look at 2014 and work back

arghandab3According to Steve Coll in the New Yorker, the United States has begun its first direct talks with the Taliban to see whether it is possible to reach a political settlement to the Afghan war.  He writes that after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the grounds that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda. However, last year, he says, a small number of officials in the Obama administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.

"Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation."

UNsensational? Five more years of Ban Ki-moon

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U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

It’s hard to find a delegate to the United Nations who despises U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But it’s even harder to find someone who thinks he has the gravitas and charisma of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning predecessor Kofi Annan, who invoked the wrath of the previous U.S. administration when he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq “illegal.” As one senior Western official, who declined to be identified, said about Ban: “It’s not as if he’s lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

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