Tag Archives | region

Zardari explains

Why Pakistan supports terror

It could have been written by any of the cheerleaders of the Pakistani establishment. But then it would have been published in Pakistani newspapers, not in the international media. So Honourable President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari does the honours with this column in today’s Washington Post. Among the many gems — lies, half-truths and passive-aggressive threats — (“Pakistan is pounded by the ravages of globally driven climate change”, “Washington has invested almost nothing on our side of the border”, “South and Central Asia is a region… where many empires have floundered“), the killer paragraph is the justification for Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan:

As the United States plans to remove its ground forces from Afghanistan and once again leave our region, we are attempting to prepare for post-withdrawal realities. The international community abandoned Central and South Asia a generation ago, triggering the catastrophe that we now find ourselves in. Whoever comes or goes, it is our coming generation that will face the firestorm. We have to live in the neighborhood. So why is it unreasonable for us to be concerned about the immediate and long-term situation of our Western border? History will not forgive us if we don’t take responsibility.[WaPo]

So dear President Obama, now you know why it is reasonable for Pakistan to support terrorists like the Haqqanis who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. Only if you’d have answered that in your latest radio interview.

This column is another reminder to those who never forget to harp upon the need to support a democratically elected civilian government in Pakistan, as opposed to the military. The premise is wrong. No one is opposed to anyone else. They are all on the same side. The masks can change but the message remains the same.

As an aside, in the recent Pakistani attempts at influencing the West, which one is worse —  this Zardari op-ed or the advertisement in the Wall Street Journal on 11 September, 2011?

Tailpiece: While the usual suspect for such work is Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, Columnist Mohammad Taqi said on Twitter that this column seems to have been ghost-written by Sherry Rehman.

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German love for Kashmir

Other countries must follow Germany in revising their travel advisories on Kashmir.

When the German Ambassador to India, Thomas Matussek visited Kashmir last month, he had promised that Germany will reconsider adverse travel advisory for its citizens on Kashmir. Since Pakistan-sponsored militancy broke out in Kashmir two decades ago, most western countries have issued an advisory to their citizens, asking them not to visit Kashmir valley.

After his meeting with the German Ambassador on June 24th, Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah had tweeted:

This is the first time any envoy has held out such an assurance. That’s a very big deal for us, regardless of how long it takes.[Link]

Firstly, no one had then taken the German Ambassador’s promise seriously. In fact, it was soon forgotten among the din that characterises Indian discourse on Kashmir.

Secondly, even if the review was to take place, no one expected the travel advisory to be reviewed so quickly.

Thus it came as a rather pleasant surprise when it was announced today that the Federal Foreign Office (FFO) of Germany has revised the travel advisory to its nationals visiting the Kashmir valley, Jammu region and Ladakh.

The significant revision in the advisory regarding Kashmir gave an overview of the security situation in the valley and clarified that the situation had now calmed down considerably and said, ”foreigners are generally not direct targets of clashes.” Regarding Jammu, the new advisory stated that the region was basically stable, though the situation might change and travellers were advised to obtain information regarding the security situation prior to their visit.[Link]

This is a very positive piece of news for Kashmir and Kashmiris. The economy of Kashmir is dependent on tourism, which contributes over 10%  to the state’s GDP. The foreign tourist visits to the Valley have remained abysmally low during the last twenty years, drastically dwindling from 59,938 in 1998 to 22,000 in 2008, a decrease of 63.3%.

As reported in the media, there were no hotel rooms available in Kashmir this year during the months of May and June. Due to school vacations, Indian tourists frequent Kashmir during those months. The foreign tourists used to visit Kashmir in July and August. Low foreign tourist arrivals mean that the hotels run at barely half occupancy during the months of July and August now. This trend needs to be reversed.

If the government of India pursues this case, other Western governments could emulate Germany and revise their travel advisories for Kashmir. That single step would contribute in greater measure to Kashmiri economy than any government programme designed to help the Kashmiris.

P.S. - Let us not expect Pakistan to help Kashmir in any way here. J&K CM Omar Abdullah just tweeted:

Srinagar’s only international flight was stopped because Pakistan didn’t allow overflight & yet they claim to be Kashmiris’ sympathisers.[Link]

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Fireworks, not fire

The build-up to the meeting of India-Pakistan foreign ministers at Delhi

From the Indian Home Minister’s opening remarks at the Fourth SAARC Interior/Home Ministers Meeting:

Honourable Members, The South Asian region is perhaps the most troubled and vulnerable region in the world.   The vast majority of major terrorist incidents this year – as well as last year – have occurred in this region.  Terrorist groups in this region have flourished because of the support they have found from State and non-State actors.  Sometimes, I think that the distinction between State actors and non-State actors is misplaced and intended to misdirect our efforts to deal with terrorist groups at the very source – the recruitment centres, the training camps and their safe havens and sanctuaries.  If I may speak frankly, let me say that no State and no Government can escape responsibility by pointing to non-State actors.  As long as the territory of a country is used by non-State actors to prepare for terrorist attacks, that country owes a legal and moral responsibility to its neighbours and to the world to suppress those non-State actors and bring them to justice.[PIB]

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that Mr Chidambaram’s statement was directed at Pakistan.The lack of progress on bringing the perpetrators of the November 2008 terror strike in Mumbai was flagged by an Indian government source in Delhi too.

During the talks between external affairs minister S M Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar on July 27, the Indian side will emphasise that Pakistan needs to take action on 26/11 cases because terror-free atmosphere is very important for the talks to be more meaningful and productive.[HT]

It is not that only the Indians have been talking tough. Pakistan PM, reacting to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement asking India to play a leadership role in the Asia-Pacific, said that “we do not want any chaudhry [chieftain]” in the region.

However these barbs are not an indicator of things to come. The India-Pakistan Foreign minister’s meeting will, in all probability, be without any fireworks. We can instead expect announcement of some confidence-building measures over Kashmir at the end of the meeting.

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UN-easy idea

India should lead the anti-piracy mission in its own seas, and not seek a UN-led mission.

India has suggested a five-step anti-piracy action plan to the United Nations Security Council to combat the menace of piracy in the of Indian Ocean.

The five steps Puri recommended are: tracking the trail of ransom money to different parts of the world, prosecution of the beneficiaries of ransom money for abetting piracy, conduct of naval operations under the UN, sanitation of the Somali coastline through identified corridors and enactment of national laws to criminalise piracy.[PTI]

At the face of it, the step #3: conduct of naval operations under the UN, sounds like a sound idea. But it is not. The reason is simple. Piracy is no longer restricted to the waters in the vicinity of the Somalian shores. It has moved closer to the Indian shores, which has resulted in the insurers increasing premiums for ships passing through here. See this Somalian piracy threat map: 2005-2010 to get the extent of the threat. Even if one were to desist extrapolating from that map, the incidents of piracy in this year itself have been scarily close to the Indian shores (see this, this and this). Going by the historical evidence of last five years, this trend is unlikely to be reversed soon.

Notwithstanding India’s continued military contribution to UN peacekeeping assignments over the years, most of them have turned out to be abysmal failures. There is little chance that an anti-piracy mission under the UN flag will be any different. But more importantly, there is no reason for India to seek a UN assignment so close to its maritime borders. These waters, in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, are India’s own areas of influence and it would be imprudent for India to itself seek a Blue-flag naval operation — outside its direct or indirect control — there.

What is the alternative then? Consequent to years of lag in modernisation, India does not have the naval assets and the resources to take on this task on its own. But India can learn from the example of the multi-national Combined Task Force-150, which has been deployed by the United States in the Indian Ocean to fight piracy. India can similarly take a lead and coordinate with other countries — say Australia, Japan, Bangladesh and Indonesia — in the region to create a CTF for this region. The naval assets of countries of South and South East Asia can be pooled in to conduct anti-piracy operations in the regions close to Indian shores. India could place this mission’s headquarters along with India’s Southern Naval Command, provide substantial logistical and financial support to the mission and seek a UNSC mandate supporting the CTF. The diplomatic initiative from India’s side can be headed by a special envoy for anti-piracy mission, by someone like Mr Shyam Saran, who can provide the necessary diplomatic impetus for such a mission.

There are three distinct advantages of this plan. One, it will announce to the world India’s willingness to shoulder its responsibility in global affairs as an emergent power. This will also address the questions raised against India’s status as the pre-eminent naval power in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, by preventing China’s attempts to establish a maritime role in India’s backwaters.  Furthermore, India’s neighbouring countries are likely to read the signal to desist from repeating the incident witnessed recently, where Sri Lanka Navy ended up killing some Indian fishermen.

Two, being a multilateral mission, it will also establish India’s credentials as a country which wants to cooperate and work alongside other countries in the region. Moreover, a multi-lateral mission provided Indian Navy operational interoperability with other navies of the region. It paves the way for their closer cooperation in the future, while providing the basis for developing a strategic relationship with Japan, Australia and with member-countries of  ASEAN.

Finally, India’s national security paradigm, since its independence, has been based around its land-forces. Whereas an emergent India’s role in the changed geo-political scenario of last two decades demands a bigger and stronger navy, India’s defence budget remains disproportionately skewed in the favour of its army (this is not an argument against the importance of the army but for providing navy the pre-eminent strategic role). By owning the responsibility for anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, India may finally be able to correct this strategic anomaly. This is what India needs to secure its trajectory as an emergent power.

Many would justifiably argue that it is too early to talk about an India-led CTF like naval mission now. However, it is equally important to debate this idea now, so that the misplaced Indian suggestion of having a UN-led naval operation is nipped in the bud. After all, be careful of what you wish for. It might come true.

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The terror(ising) logic

Why has Pakistan dropped the phrase ‘frontline state in war against terrorism’

It is slightly dated news by now that Pakistan has decided to drop the phrase ‘frontline state in war against terrorism’ used to stress Pakistan’s role in anti-terror efforts in the region. But it was the logic of why the decision was taken that caught this blogger’s eye.

He said the ‘frontline’ phrase was misleading and created an impression that the problem of terrorism was specific to this region – something which contradicts Pakistan’s position that it is a global phenomenon.

“We don’t want to be seen as the epicentre of terrorism any more.”[Dawn]

How does being a “frontline state in war against terrorism” become synonymous with being the “epicentre of terrorism”? Anyone?

The news-report further goes on to helpfully explain the hypothesis.

Instability, a shrinking economy, currency devaluation, massive internal security expenses and loss of investment and export markets are just some of the manifestations of the debilitating effects this phrase and the country’s alliance with the West has caused.[Dawn]

“Debilitating effects this phrase and the country’s alliance with the West” have caused! Got it now. First goes the phrase. Then goes the alliance with the West. Hopefully.

Meanwhile Pakistan army chief was at the Sri Lankan Defence Services Command and Staff College at Sapugaskanda earlier this week. And here is what he said about India there.

“An arms race with India is not an option for Pakistan,” adding that the defence budget of India is nine or ten times bigger than Pakistan’s. But he said that he stands by the fact that he is India-centric as Pakistan has some unresolved issues and a history of conflicts with its neighbour.[TST]

Fine. India-centric he is. And terror-centric, he is not.

That leaves this blogger with just one final query. What is the new phrase that Pakistan plans to use to describe itself to wrest more aid from the West?

Any guesses!

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Size does matter

How big is the Vale of Kashmir?

Click on the map above to see a larger image

[Map source: Perry-Castañeda Library, University of Texas]

Take a close look at the map above and observe the size of the Vale of Kashmir. The Vale of Kashmir, which is often used synonymously with the state of Jammu and Kashmir in international forums, is the only portion affected by separatism in the state. It is a valley roughly 130 kilometres long and up to 55 kilometres wide astride the upper Jhelum River. To put that into perspective, the complete area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is approximately 220,000 square kilometres. Even if one were to go beyond the Valley and consider the complete Kashmir region — mind you the areas outside the Valley in Kashmir region are not really affected by separatism — its area is officially 15,893 square kilometres (around 7% of the area of the state).

Sounds clichéd yes, but size does matter.

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Not uneven, but at odds

Understanding the conflicting Pakistani and US interests in Afghanistan

In the final paper in  a comprehensive report titled Is a Regional Strategy viable in Afghanistan? released by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in May this year, Ashley Tellis presents his synthesis of the multiple interests of the regional states and their implications for US policy. Here is a long extract from his essay explaining how the discrepancies between American and Pakistani goals threatens any attempts to secure lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, the most critical U.S. ally in the war in Afghanistan and one of Afghanistan’s most important direct neighbors, pursues far more divergent aims relative to Washington (and Kabul) than the high American dependence on Pakistan would lead one to assume. Although both Washington and Islamabad have gone to great lengths to publicly emphasize their shared goals in Afghanistan since 2001, a close analysis reveals deep and perhaps unbridgeable gulfs between the two countries, at least in the near term. These chasms are manifested most clearly on the core issues of high politics: defeating the Afghan Taliban and preventing its return to power in Kabul by force, and constructing a minimally effective central state in Afghanistan.

On both these counts, Pakistan’s interests differ from those of the United States. Where the first is concerned, Islamabad—or more precisely, the Pakistani military, which dominates national security decision making—views protecting the Afghan Taliban leadership and its core capabilities as essential to shielding Pakistan’s westward flanks against India. Although Pakistani policy makers certainly do not prefer to see the Taliban ensconced in Kabul, as they did before—in part because the events leading up to this outcome would be quite dangerous to their own country—they nonetheless seek a government in Afghanistan that has sufficient Taliban representation because of their conviction that such a regime alone would be capable of reversing India’s current influence and denying it any significant role in that country.

Islamabad also rejects the goal of building an effective central state in Afghanistan, because it fears that if such an entity comes to be dominated by secular Pashtuns, they would stymie Pakistan’s goal of preventing Afghan territorial claims on its Pashtun-dominated lands. Were a competent central authority in Afghanistan to be controlled by non-Pashtun ethnic groups, the disenfranchisement of Pakistan’s closest tribal allies in Afghanistan could, it is feared, leave Islamabad at a conclusive disadvantage vis-à-vis India. For these reasons, Pakistan’s commitment to supporting the U.S. objective of raising a minimally effective central state in Afghanistan is suspect. The erection of an effective central state in Afghanistan would also undermine Pakistan’s long-term goal of becoming the principal foreign adjudicator of Kabul’s strategic choices, which—whatever its justification—ends up placing Islamabad at odds not onlywith the United States, India, and Iran, but also with Afghanistan itself, when the interests of the Karzai regime, the northern regions, and the non-Taliban Pashtuns are taken into account.

The discrepancy between Pakistani and American goals in Afghanistan continues in the realm of economics as well: while Washington has a strong interest in ensuring the viability of the fledging Afghan state by restoring it to its historical position as a trade and transit corridor between Central and South Asia, Pakistan’s fear of becoming merely an appendage in the process, mainly supporting the growth of other major powers such as India, has led it to obstruct all worthwhile proposals relating to the expansion of economic intercourse across the greater South Asian region.

The foregoing summary does not by any means suggest that Pakistan and the United States are hopelessly divided on all issues: the partnership between the two countries has been particularly close on counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and the indigenous rebellion mounted by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The United States also continues to rely heavily on Pakistan for the transport of dry cargo for coalition military operations in Afghanistan. But, on balance, the tension between U.S. and Pakistani goals is so acute on some critical issues that it could make the difference not only to the success of U.S. operations in Afghanistan but also to the viability of any regional approach intended to induce greater cooperation within the region.

But the money quote in the report comes from Frédéric Grare in his chapter about Pakistan:

Last but not least, Pakistan will be central in the agreement-making process vis-à-vis the present quagmire in Afghanistan. In a political environment where the political pressures to exit Afghanistan are on the rise, there is the temptation to view Pakistan as a destabilizing factor only as long as, and because, it feels threatened by its neighbors. The reality is different: Pakistan is a revisionist power and, in the eyes of India, an aggressor. It will therefore continue to feed its own paranoia. For this reason, concessions to a Pakistan that will not renounce terrorism as a means of pursuing its foreign policy objectives is likely to lead to a resurgence of the very organizations the coalition has been trying to eliminate for the past eight years. In a regional context where the political balance might have been altered in favor of Pakistan, such concessions would constitute regression and would make little sense from a security perspective.

As for the Indians, their position is perhaps best summed up by this quote from the famous British cartoonist, Ashleigh Brilliant.

My biggest problem is what to do about all the things I can’t do anything about.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a comprehensive report titled Is a Regional Strategy viable in Afghanistan?

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Shake-it-up time

India may need to act unreasonably to contain the short-term fallouts of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.

From The Cable:

Here is a readout that Sourabh Gupta, a senior researcher with Samuels International Associates (SIA), published in the Nelson Report, a daily Washington insider’s newsletter published by SIA’s Chris Nelson. Our sources say this readout is “almost exactly right.”

Key Pakistani political demands: Non-negotiable requirement for friendly successor regime in Kabul; significant downgrading of Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan, including New Delhi’s training of Afghan military; preference for extended-term American presence in Afghanistan/strategic neighborhood, notwithstanding drawdown of forces next year.

Secondary set of political-military demands: faster delivery of upgraded weapons package; expedited payment for outstanding dues related to AfPak support operations and assistance with civil infrastructure rebuilding in frontier territories; U.S. to lay-off from Islamabad’s nuclear program (given latter’s need to ramp-up fissile material production in absence of bestowal of India-equivalent civil nuclear deal); U.S. to intensify diplomatic effort to facilitate productive Islamabad-New Delhi dialogue on ‘core’ issues – Kashmir and water (upper riparian/lower riparian) issues.

Key U.S. demands:  Islamabad to re-direct primary counter-insurgency energies against key Islamist groups based/operating out of North Waziristan (Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban Haqqani network, local talibanized tribal warlords); unfettered drone strikes in N. Waziristan/other tribal territories to continue; expanded CIA intel. operations/listening posts in Pakistani cities – Islamabad to subsequently allow access to Taliban leaders arrested by way of real-time communication intercepts;  Islamabad to rein-in larger infrastructure of jihad that it has casually tolerated, even supported.(Emphasis added) [The Cable]

A couple of quick observations here. One, all the Pakistani demands here barring two — the US presence and the reimbursements of funds — are India-centric (as emphasised in bold above). Other than the demands of resolution of ‘core’ issues and reducing Indian influence in Afghanistan which directly pertain to India, my fellow blogger Dhruva pointed out that the demand for  “a friendly successor regime in Kabul” actually translates into an Afghan regime hostile to India, the upgraded weapons package is meant to be used against India, and the nuclear demands also explicitly list India as a reason. In contrast to the Pakistani demands which are mostly strategic in nature, almost all the US demands are tactical demands of greater security cooperation — merely an expansion of what is already happening between the US and Pakistan in that country.

Two, there was earlier only one “core” issue from the Pakistani side between India and Pakistan; now there are two: Kashmir and water. Would it be unfair to surmise that the recent Indo-Pak talks where both the countries have agreed to discuss all issues are an outcome of this US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue?

Finally, if this report of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue is indeed true, and Pakistan does indeed get all its demands – then this will also have long-term implications for India because it will lead to a more aggressive and demanding Pakistan. Pakistan, if it succeeds, will have done so through its bad behaviour whereas India has long seen good behaviour as the means to achieve greater reward (such as the Indo-US nuclear deal).

Thus time has perhaps come for India to consider acting badly and shake its strategic partnership with the US up a bit. While long-term US and Indian interests will continue to remain aligned,  the short-sightedness of the current US administration in pandering to these Pakistani demands is going to hurt India in the short- to mid-term. Although not acknowledged so publicly by Washington, Indian cooperation remains critical to the success of the US plans in the region. India now needs to issue a reminder, if not a mild warning, to Washington by initiating a few unreasonable actions that would threaten to upset the US applecart in the region. That may perhaps be the only way to secure Indian regional security objectives in the short- to mid-term (which are incidentally same as the US objectives in the region). Moreover, it would also prevent the US from taking some improvident decisions that could be catastrophic for the future of the region.

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Responding to Pune

India needs a holistic, well-crafted response that balances its short-term, mid-term and long-term goals vis-à-vis Pakistan.

The jehadis have struck again on the Indian mainland; this time in Pune, albeit more than a year after the horrendous terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. The initial response, while going with the most plausible and popular assumption that the blast was the handiwork of Pakistan based jehadi groups, is one of indignation. Perhaps understandably so as tempers are bound to run high. And this emotion is likely to be further amplified as the Indian mainstream media hyperventilates and virtually runs amok with its over the top coverage of the incident.

On the other end of the spectrum is the rather logical sounding response that India should unequivocally reaffirm its commitment to continue peace talks with Pakistan, as the sole aim of the perpetrators of this blast is to disrupt these peace talks. This response would appeal to both realists and peaceniks alike.

So what is the correct response — surgical strikes against Pakistan or talks with Pakistan come what may? The response, in the end, has to come from the government of India and it will not be easy for them to articulate one. One way of framing the desired response is by breaking it down into Indian goals in a short-term, mid-term and long-term framework.

The short-term goal of the Indian government is to assuage the hurt feelings of Indians and protect them from any terror attacks in the future. It has to also somehow convey to Pakistan that India is not willing to be pummelled by non-state actors sponsored by sections of the Pakistani establishment. But how does it do that? Indian government has not been able to figure it out for the last 25 years when the country has been prone to such terror attacks.  One of the simplest ways of conveying a message across the border is to emulate the deeds of Mossad in the UAE. Surely, it is not too much to ask of the Indian state.

In the mid-term, there is no option for India but to talk to Pakistan. This will deny Pakistan the excuse that Indian intransigence is preventing it from meeting the US goals in the region. Pakistan assumes great importance in the current US war plans which can be aptly described to be based on the hammer and anvil theory. As the US military offensive in Afghanistan moves southwards from Marja, Pakistan military will have to hold the jehadis from its side of the Durand Line. It is in India’s interest that the US strategy succeeds. India has to also continue to talk to Pakistan so that the idea that the complete region, India-Af-Pak is one single theatre, doesn’t gain ground and become accepted wisdom the world over.

When it comes to Indian long-term goals vis-à-vis Pakistan, it is a long story. To put it in a nutshell, Pakistan needs a Macarthur. Period.

If you look at the debate on the subject in this country, most of it is unbalanced and focused on only one of the above goals. This focus on only one of the goals, while completely ignoring the others, is detrimental to the national interest. However, it must be conceded that there are inherent conflicts between the three goals and balancing them simultaneously is a very tricky proposition. It presents a real challenge which the policy makers in the government of India must confront and overcome.

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Where are our medals?

Anecdotal understanding of the Afghan attitude is misleading.

Tom Ricks, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria:

Even when I lived there, it seemed to me that guerrilla warfare was the Afghan national sport.

One of my favorite books on this region is by John Masters. It’s called “Bugles and a Tiger.” It’s a memoir of being a British officer with a Gurkha regiment in Waziristan in the 1930s. At the end of that last war that the British had there, the Afghan cousins showed up rather angrily and confronted him.

“Where are our medals,” they said.

He said, “Well, you were the enemy.”

And they said, “No, no. You gave medals to the Pashtuns on your side. We want our medals, too. You couldn’t have had a good war without us.”

This is very much the Afghan attitude. This is a kind of sporting event for them in many ways.[CNN]

Well, that’s a great story to recount over a drink. But times have certainly changed since then. The sport has now evolved into a game, a brutal game of power, fuelled by the concept of jehad and embraced by the fanatical brotherhood of jehadis worldwide.

Let not such anecdotes influence national policies on Afghanistan. The policy decisions have to be based on hard facts and dispassionate analysis, and ultimately are a matter of political judgement.

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