May 5th, 2010
09:47 AM ET

Pakistan is 'epicenter of Islamic terrorism'

The suspect in the Times Square bombing attempt was caught as he was seeking to flee to Pakistan, a nation that analyst Fareed Zakaria calls the "epicenter of Islamic terrorism."

"It's worth noting that even the terrorism that's often attributed to the war in Afghanistan tends to come out of Pakistan, to be planned by Pakistanis, to be funded from Pakistan or in some other way to be traced to Pakistan," said Zakaria. He added that Pakistan's connection with terrorist groups goes back decades and has often been encouraged by that nation's military for strategic reasons.

Read the Q&A with Zakaria, author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," about the ideology that drives the terrorism, Pakistan's stance on militancy and lessons learned from the Times Square incicident

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Filed under: Pakistan • Your View
March 22nd, 2010
12:43 PM ET

It's a new year in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Nasim Fekrat started the Afghan Lord blog in 2004 in Afghanistan, where he grew up. He is now a student at Dickinson College in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The opinions expressed in this guest blog are solely those of Nasim Fekrat.

This year, the Nowruz festival holds even more significance and importance in the lives of Afghans since the United Nation’s General Assembly recognized March 21 as International Day of Nowruz.

Nowruz, banned under Taliban rule, begins on the day of the vernal equinox (the first day of spring) and marks the beginning of the new year. Every year, three days before Nowruz, tens of thousands of people travel to the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e Sharif to watch the elaborate ceremony.

Nowruz is celebrated for two weeks throughout Afghanistan. People wear new clothes, refurbish their house, paint the buildings and henna their hands. Young girls go with their mothers to holy shrines and pray to have a good future, a good life and a good husband and be fortunate while the boys have an eye on their parents to decide who is fair and suitable for him.

One of most famous of Nowruz traditions among Afghans is to forget and forgive mistakes of one another and start the New Year with new hopes and new goals. During the first three days of the year, families and relatives meet and visit each other’s houses. These are parts of Afghan traditions that date back centuries. FULL POST

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Filed under: Life and Culture • Your View
February 18th, 2010
10:25 AM ET

In Kabul, doubts about the Marjah offensive

The biggest coalition offensive in Afghanistan since the Taliban were toppled is underway in Helmand Province, much of the action focused on the town of Marjah. 

U.S. officials are almost giddy over what they see, so far, as a successful operation. U.S. Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, normally the coolest of cucumbers, Wednesday declared to journalists at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul: "They will be studying this operation for years to come." 

Officials have been doing a lot of talking recently, about the goals of the mission, the tactics they will use, and their ambitious reconstruction and development plans for Marjah and adjacent areas once the fighting stops. They’re hesitant to declare this offensive as a turning point in the nine-year old struggle for Afghanistan, but you can sense a strong desire to do exactly that. 

Having gotten an earful from Holbrooke, it seemed a good idea to find out how Afghans are reacting to the fighting in Helmand.  FULL POST

February 18th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

5 ways forward for the U.S. in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Cynthia Keppley Mahmood is an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame, specializing in the anthropology of violence, war and peace, terrorism and guerilla warfare. The opinions expressed in this guest blog are solely those of Cynthia Keppley Mahmood.

The United States is losing respect and gaining enemies the deeper it involves itself in terror wars. We may tell ourselves otherwise and hope otherwise, but those who actually study how people on the ground react understand the veracity of this point, no matter what their personal politics.

The recent civilian deaths at Marjah crystallizes the point. We name the operation “Moshtarak” or “Together” (fooling no one), and we quickly apologize for what happened. Yes, many of us both here and there believe President Obama is sincere in his desire to further mutual respect and bring peace to a bloody and underdeveloped part of the world. But still, the bodies of women and children go into improvised graves before another sun rises, as we have learned by now, is required by Muslim tradition.

A group of expert scholars on South Asia met last year at the University of California to consider possible futures for U.S. relations with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite our disciplinary and political differences, we arrived unanimously at five points of advice as to how the United States should proceed in Afghanistan. FULL POST

February 13th, 2010
09:17 AM ET

Your view: Keeping Marjah clear of Taliban

The goal of Operation Moshtarak is to force the Taliban from Marjah to free the opium-rich province of Taliban influence and drug traffickers. It's an example of a U.S. strategy to focus on population centers and separate the Taliban from Afghan civilians. And, the ultimate test of the effort is what happens after the offensive.

Two questions observers have been asking are will the Afghan forces and government be able to maintain control and generate the allegiance of the citizenry? And, will the Afghan authorities be able to provide farmers an alternative to growing the poppy that pervades the region?

What do you think? If the offensive rids the area of Taliban, can the area remain Taliban-free?

Filed under: Operation Moshtarak • Your View
February 3rd, 2010
10:41 AM ET

Pentagon's war strategy

Editor's note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings, penned an opinion piece for CNN on the Pentagon's newly released strategy paper. Below he focuses on Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan mission is an important place to begin the discussion. This year and next, the United States will deploy up to 100,000 troops in that country for much if not most of the year. Not only does that translate into $100 billion a year in added defense costs, above and beyond those of simply maintaining the military, but it also requires a standing ground force of a given size in order to handle such burdens over time.

As Hassina Sherjan and I argue in a new book, "Toughing It Out in Afghanistan," we should know a lot later this year and certainly by 2011 about whether our basic strategy is working there, but it may not be until 2012 or 2013 when U.S. force levels return back to 50,000 or fewer. Not only that, but the United States still has 100,000 troops in Iraq and will perhaps still have 40,000 there at the end of 2010.

Read more on O'Hanion's take on the Pentagon's defense strategy

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Filed under: Pentagon • Troops • Voices • Your View
February 1st, 2010
11:02 AM ET

Could deal with Taliban fighters end war?

Editor's note: Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-born American writer, is the author of "Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes" and "The Widow's Husband."

"Re-integrating the Taliban."

Could that be a way to end the war in Afghanistan? Representatives of 70 nations met in London, England, this week to discuss that very idea. The plan was first floated several weeks ago by a key adviser to Afghanistan President Harmid Karzai, Masoom Stanekzai, and it has two parts: One, lure low-level Taliban fighters out of the insurgency with economic incentives and two, co-opt Taliban leaders by offering them a role in governing Afghanistan.

Part one of the Stanekzai program makes sense because it might split rank-and-file fighters away from instigators of the insurgency (I prefer the word "instigators" to "leaders.") Part two, however, will only end up delivering the government of Afghanistan to a new Talibanist group and betray the millions of urban modernist Afghans who have sided with the West over the last decade.

Read more of Ansary's column

Filed under: London conference • Taliban • Your View
January 27th, 2010
11:23 AM ET

Your view: Negotiating with the Taliban

One of the focuses of the London Conference on Afghanistan on Thursday will be how to reach a peace with at least some Taliban fighters.

Is it possible? Reader Richard writes, "The only way to effectively negotiate with the Taliban to treat them the way they treat others...mercilessly."

But other readers say it's feasible: "I believe the Afghani Taliban are a rare group that can be negotiated with," says Melanie. "Both sides should sit down, have a healthy meal with good tea and coffee, show respect in speech and actions, and the results will be a miracle."

What do you think? Is negotiating with the Taliban a good idea? Can a peace ever be met with the Taliban? Can lower level Taliban leaders be brought into the political and social fabric of Afghanistan?

Filed under: London conference • Your View
January 18th, 2010
07:46 AM ET

Holbrooke: 'Most challenging situation'

[cnn-video url=]

As he looks back on 2009, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke talks to CNN's Atia Abawi. He says it was a "complicated and challenging year." Despite some progress, he says, the whole year was overshadowed by the Afghan presidential elections. Looking to 2010, he calls it "a dramatic year."

"I understand the challenges here," he says. "I don't want to say we've turned a corner or there's light at the end of the tunnel - I've been in too many wars to give that optimistic overspin but I will say this: the people of Afghanistan do not want the Taliban to come back."

Watch more of the interview on Holbooke on the importance of agriculture, how Afghanistan compares to other countries' he's traveled to and the international commitment to Afghanistan.

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Filed under: Your View
January 6th, 2010
09:43 AM ET

The profiling issue from an Afghan traveling to the U.S.

Editor’s Note: Nasim Fekrat started the Afghan Lord blog in 2004 in Afghanistan, where he grew up. He is now a student at Dickinson College in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The opinions expressed in this guest blog are solely those of Nasim Fekrat.

After the unsuccessful terror attack on an American jetliner by suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, a 23 year-old Nigerian, security at international airports is getting tighter. In the days after the incident, President Obama vowed to “disrupt and dismantle” every possible threat against the U.S. and ordered enhanced screening and security procedures for all flights, domestic and international. These measures are smart, but they increase the concerns for those travelers who might be suspected by their nationality or religion.

Last week, a viewer called into CNN, to say that anyone who has a Muslim name should not be allowed to fly into the U.S. I have been profiled just because I am coming from Afghanistan, have a Muslim name and identify myself as an Afghan. I personally believe that judging travelers on their ethnicity and religion is not fair. Psychologically, it is disturbing and annoying to be interrogated just because of your nationality. Instead, the security should be reformed and new technology should be developed and used to determine who is actually dangerous. FULL POST

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Filed under: Your View