Friday, 21 September 2012

Who is Brendan McCullum?

In our rugby-mad country, cricket players are often overshadowed by their rugby counterparts. But Black Cap Brendon McCullum found rock star fame in India as part of cricket’s richest tournament, the Indian Premier League earlier this year, and last night blasted his way into cricket history books. The 30-year-old right-hander smashed seven sixes and 11 fours during his 58-ball 123 to give New Zealand, who reached 3-191 in their 20 allotted overs, a rampaging start to the group D match played in overcast conditions. McCullum's clean hitting made it gloomy for Bangladesh who were restricted to 8-132 in their 20 overs, with Tim Southee (3-16) and Kyle Mills (3-33) sharing the spoils.

In a cul de sac close to the Parkside Hotel and a stone throw away from that famous rugby and cricket ground, Carisbrook, in Dunedin, Brendan, and his younger brother Nathan, lived their younger life. My brother and I lived not far away, and remember watching Brendan’s Dad, Stuart, playing for Otago at Carisbrook.

Had Brendan chosen another path, he may have ousted Dan Carter in the No. 10 All Black jersey as he was a talented rugby player. His school history gives an insight into his rugby playing talent in 1999.  “The first win in Littlebourne for 24 years against Otago was achieved after future New Zealand cricket star and King’s High captain and first-five Brendon McCullum snatched an intercept and sprinted sixty meters to score a crucial try.”

As of 21 September 2012, McCullum simultaneously holds the record for the highest innings total in a Twenty20 International (123 for New Zealand against Bangladesh) and in a first-class equivalent Twenty20 match (158 not out for Kolkata Knight Riders against Bangalore Royal Challengers). He was the first and, as of that same date, only player to score two Twenty20 International centuries.

Career highlights

In 2003 he played in a Test series against England and scored what was then his highest score, an innings of 96 at Lord's. His maiden Test century came several months later when he scored 143 against Bangladesh. He fell just short of his second Test hundred in a game against Sri Lanka when dismissed one short of his hundred. His second century would later come with a run a ball 111 against Zimbabwe.

He was selected in the 20-man ICC World XI squad for the ICC Super Series in July 2005.

Brendan McCullum goes out of his way to encourage youngsters. On 31 December last year after a cricket match in Queenstown, New Zealand, he mingled with fans and freely talked with them. Here is with my son Ablai.

In March 2006, he was charged with bringing the game into disrepute during an ODI against West Indies, but was found not guilty.

On 20 February 2007, he scored 86 not out as New Zealand went on to be the first team to whitewash Australia in a 3 match ODI series since 1997. He struck a massive six off the first ball of the last over against Nathan Bracken to level the scores, before he finished it off with a boundary. In his matchwinning innings he partnered Craig McMillan to a world record equalling 6th wicket partnership of 165.

On 21 March 2007, he set a new World Cup record, by smashing 50 runs from just 20 balls against Canada in St Lucia. He finished his innings with 52 runs from 21 balls, including 10 fours and 5 sixes, with a strike rate of 247.61. The previous record had been set by Mark Boucher (South Africa) against The Netherlands on 16 March (50 runs from 21 balls).

On 14 December 2007 he scored 96 against Australia. He was caught by Nathan Bracken off the bowling of Brad Hogg after 35.3 overs.

On 31 December 2007 he scored 50 from just 19 balls against Bangladesh. He finished his innings with 80 runs from only 28 balls, including 9 fours and 6 sixes with a strike rate of 285.71 resulting in a 10 wicket win: chasing 93 from 50 overs and achieving it making 95 from only 6 overs.

On 12 February 2008 he scored 50 from 27 balls against England. He finished his innings with 80 runs from only 47 balls, including 8 fours and 5 sixes with a strike rate of 170.21 resulting in a 10 wicket win and giving New Zealand a 2 nil lead in the 5 match series.

On 18 April 2008, he claimed the record for highest individual score in a Twenty20 innings, scoring 158* from only 73 balls, which included 13 sixes and 10 fours in boundaries, for the Kolkata Knight Riders against Bangalore Royal Challengers in the first game of the Indian Premier League helping them get a much deserved 140 run victory.This eclipsed the previous record mark of 141, held by Australian Cameron White, McCullum faced an over White bowled in that match and smashed him for 24, it was White's only over in that match.In the same match he also claimed the record for most sixes in a Twenty20 innings, the most sixes in an individual Twenty20 innings has since been surpassedby Englishman Graham Napier.

On 1 July 2008, he scored his maiden ODI century, eventually getting dismissed for 166 against Ireland. He shared in a 266 run opening stand with James Marshall, which is the highest ODI partnership for any wicket in Black Caps history and the second highest opening partnership in all ODIs

On 5 April 2009, on day three of the third Test match during India's tour of New Zealand, he displayed an amazing level of alertness in the dismissal of Rahul Dravid. Dravid attempted a sweep shot off Daniel Vettori's bowling, but McCullum saw what Dravid was up to before the ball had even pitched and moved swiftly to his left (Dravid's leg side). Ross Taylor at first slip did the same. The ball came nicely off Dravid's bat, but flew straight into the hands of a waiting Brendon McCullum.A couple of balls earlier, McCullum tried the same thing, but he had been a little slow and Dravid's sweep was kept low. Although there has been some discussion regarding the legality of McCullum's movement before the ball had even pitched, the laws of cricket indicate he was well within his right to do so.

On 6 November 2009, vs Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, McCullum scored his second ODI century (131, 129 balls, 14 4's, 3 6's) to elevate New Zealand to 303 and win the match to level the series.

On 16 February 2010, during the only Test match against Bangladesh, he scored 185, the highest score ever by a New Zealand wicket-keeper in Test cricket. He was also involved in the record highest sixth-wicket partnership for New Zealand of 339 runs with Martin Guptill, missing out on the world record by just 12 runs.

On 27 February 2010, becomes just the second player to score a T20I hundred, finishing 116 not out, one run short of Chris Gayle's record of 117.

On 4 May 2010 McCullum became the first player to score 1000 T20 international runs. He achieved this feat playing against Zimbabwe in the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 at Guyana On 28 June 2010, Brendon McCullum said he will not keep wicket for New Zealand in Test matches. He, however informed that he will still keep in 50-overs & T20 over games.This meant that McCullum would have to cement his place in the test team as a batsman. He did a fine job in his first innings since handing over the Wicket-keeping duties he scored 65 runs and was engaged in a 104 run partnership with Ross Taylor he was promoted to the position of opener in tests rather than his usual number 5 position. McCullum did however have experience of opening the innings because he opens for New Zealand in limited-overs cricket

McCullum is married to Ellissa McCullum (née Arthur), an Australian from Caniaba, New South Wales. They have a son Riley and a daughter Maya.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Half a million page views on my blog

                           500,000  hits
Today, is a milestone for me as I noticed the counter on my blog has registered 500,000 page views. From memory, I started the blog way back in July 2007.

So what are the most viewed articles I have written and posted on my blog ?

Martha Gellhorn - war correspondent  6 Nov 2011,                                         35894

Gujarat (india) earthquake ten years   8 Feb 2011,                                          16886

Haunting memories from Vietnam     25 May 2010,                                           9762

Harbours, ships, mountains, girls and a slumbering world 1 May 2008,              8454

Gujarat earthquake 11 years later, 20 Jan 2012,                                                  6524

A full description of the mountain ranges of Afghanistan 15 Nov 2008,              3664

Journey on the Silk Road,  23 Jun 2008,                                                               2633

Rob Hall's daughter Sarah climbs Kilimanjaro at 15,  14 Oct 2011,                   2428

Christchurch earthquake - 23 February 2011, 22 Feb 2011,                                1732

Hemingway & Gellhorn, 28 May 2012,                                                                 1616

Thanks to all of you who have visited my blog.

It is interested to note which are the leading nationalities visiting my blog.

United States      143673

India                    50229

New Zealand       46332

United Kingdom  34620

Sri Lanka            24718

Australia             17271

Canada               14478

Germany             11080

Russia                   7349

Netherlands           5223

Mitt Romney on Obama Voters

I try to keep out of global politics most of the time, but this was so fascinating I couldn't help but post it.

Mother Jones posted a hidden-camera video on YouTube today in which Mitt Romney declares that Obama’s core voters are people who “believe that they are victims,” “pay no income tax,” and “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.” In the clip, which is generating online heat, Romney candidly tells potential donors that he can never convince those hard-core Obama supporters to “take responsibility for their lives.” Mother Jones said to protect the leaker of the video they blurred the image and would not disclose where it was shot. They did say it occurred after Romney had secured the nomination.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Can two Giants lead their team to the final in the World Twenty20 cricket ?

I live in Sri Lanka and will be off tomorrow with my boys to watch a warm-up match between Australia and New Zealand. The atmosphere in Colombo is electrifying with parades, poster, banners and hoardings promoting the World  Twenty20 champs. I cannot even stab at a possible winner, and was impressed by this article written by Harsha Bhogle who unwraps the mysteries to playing cricket in this part of the world and explains how this tournament will be on a level playing field.

There was a time when the subcontinent was mystery, assigned dark and exotic shades. It was the land of the unknown, rendered even more so by inventive prose. You got the feeling that visiting teams were waiting for the unexpected, that, peculiarly, they expected it, and were almost ready to succumb to it. Either they weren't aware of how to combat the conditions or, more likely, they were just unwilling to. A tour to this part of the world brought out the best in cricket writers, rarely in cricketers.

Jacob Oram one of the giant NZ cricketers.

A couple of days ago I saw two giant New Zealanders, they of the land that had seemed beyond the unknown to us, understand the subcontinent like it was their own. And it struck me that the mystique had gone. Jacob Oram and James Franklin seemed so at ease that they might have been bowling at Eden Park, indeed that the Feroz Shah Kotla might have been as familiar to them as Eden Park was. The world had shrunk and India was now the playground of the cricket world. Two New Zealanders had beaten India playing an Indian game.

Left: James Franklin

And so, as the World Twenty20 begins across the Palk Strait, I wonder if knowledge of local conditions is a qualification anymore; whether slow bowlers who take the pace off the ball speak only in our accents. Wristy players with exotic shots now hail from Ireland, mystery spinners from Trinidad, and even those from Dunedin and Hobart are increasingly at home in Pallekele and Visakhapatnam.

And so this is as open a World T20 as any you will see. You could argue, and you would argue fairly, that the smaller a match the more open it is anyway, but in earlier editions the format was still unfamiliar and there were times when the slow, low pitches of the subcontinent could negate teams like New Zealand, South Africa and England. Not anymore. The IPL is now five years old, the Big Bash has gathered steam, there is excitement around England's T20, and little leagues have sprung up in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As cuisines go global, so does short-form cricket.

The groups don't matter anymore, and the rankings still have insufficient data to make for fair and informed assessments. As Australia have shown, the number ten ranking can be made to look both correct and ridiculous in the space of two days. Look at their matches against Pakistan. In the 2010 World Twenty20 semi-final they got 80 in six overs; recently they struggled to make that many in 20 overs, and a couple of days later they bowled Pakistan out for 74. Any of those days could have been a final, so predictions will be foolhardy.

The news coming out of Sri Lanka is that the pitches have a bit of the spice normally associated with the fish curries there; that the ball is allowed a decent carry in Pallekele, and that spinners of doubtful pedigree will have to do more than just turn a doorknob to get help from the pitches

That is especially so because the news coming out of Sri Lanka is that the pitches have a bit of the spice normally associated with the fish curries there; that the ball is allowed a decent carry in Pallekele, and that spinners of doubtful pedigree will have to do more than just turn a door knob to get help from the pitches. I hope that assessment is right because good pitches will favour better cricketers. I also hope that boundary ropes are placed a respectable distance away from the batsman.

The unpredictability makes this edition even more alluring. West Indies, once the home of fast bowling, could play with Samuel Badree, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy (three of them slow, one just going past that definition); Sri Lanka could throw up another couple of unorthodox sensations to go with Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis (have been told to keep an eye out for Dilshan Munaweera and Akila Dananjaya); and even South Africa, the land of the braai and seam-up bowlers, might play three slow bowlers. With Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul in form, Pakistan are the one team that need not bother about the surface, having bowlers to suit all kinds.

If the tracks are indeed really good, India will be forced to play with five bowlers, which is how it should be anyway. A team that has six quality batsmen and can play Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh thereafter shouldn't need the security of another batsman at No. 7. If there is a weakness in this team, it is the absence of a death bowler, and the selection of Zaheer Khan, never the most enthusiastic T20 cricketer, is probably an attempt to fill that position.

For the first time in years the team to watch out for is West Indies. I suggested a couple of years ago that T20 might be the path to the revival of West Indies cricket, and they certainly seem to play it with the joie de vivre that the format encourages. A team of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith, Darren Bravo (or Lendl Simmons), Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Sammy, Andre Russell, Narine and Fidel Edwards (with Ravi Rampaul and Samuel Badree around) offers much for the senses. Gayle will still be the talisman, the enforcer, but there are many match-winners down the line. And almost all of them have played a lot on the subcontinent.

To me, this World Twenty20 will be a search for the joy in West Indies cricket. Anyone can win it but West Indies will bring more smiles to faces.

I was born on a hill overlooking that famous rugby ground, Carisbrook in Dunedin, and watched the All Blacks play the mighty 1956 Springboks when the late Ron Jarden scored an intercept try for the All Blacks to clinch a 10-6 win in the first test of the tumultuous series of 1956.

Rugby test between these two great rugby playing nations in Dunedin are rare, so tomorrow’s rugby test match between the All Blacks and the Springboks brings back many memories, some of them bitter ones, during the time of South Africa’s repressive apartheid regieme.

The new Sringbok’s captain Jean de Villiers' may not have been the most successful capatain so far, but a win against the All Black in Dunedin tomorrow night will go a long way towards easing the pressure.

A draw with Argentina and a loss to Australia aren't acceptable results for South African rugby supporters and the heat is on the team to get a result this weekend

"The team knows what is expected from them, it's a New Zealand v South Africa test and that always will be special.

"Growing up, playing in the back yard, you dream about these days, representing your country against the All Blacks, said de Villier in Dunedin yesterday.

Like de Villiers, I grew up dreaming of being an All Black and playing against South Africa, until the tragedy of the 1960 All Black Tour to South Africa upset my 12 year old mind.

My memories of the apartheid era in South Africa go back to that cold, crisp winter's morning at Montecillo Ground, Dunedin, in mid-July 1960. A heavy frost covered the ground. I was playing for Zingari Richmond under 7 stone schoolboys and as I smashed my way through the opposition, I hit a wall of players and fell to the ground, landing arkwardly. The pain was excruciating as I writhed on the ground. I had broken my collarbone.
The great Maori All Black, Waka Nathan.

I was in considerable pain for three months as I walked and bused between the Dunedin hospital, physiotherapy department and doctors. It had just been announced that an all white All Black rugby team would tour South Africa. It was a bombshell to a young rugby player who had watched Waka Nathan, Mac Heriwini, Phillip Tautarangi, Ron Rangi and other Maori All Black hopefuls play for Auckland against Otago at Carisbrook a few weeks earlier. These guys ran like quicksilver, and cut through teams like swords. Legends such as Manga Emery, Alby Pryor, Muru Walters, the Maniapoto brothers and other were also not going to be given the chance to wear the All Black jersey either in 1960. I was crestfallen and confused.

I pleaded to my Father and shopkeepers I knew in central Dunedin whose shops I walked past on my way to the hospital. Their shop windows had posters of the touring All Black team, but without Maori. I asked respected shop owners who had played rugby and cricket such as Charlie Saxton, Vin Cusack, Walter Findlay, Doug Cederwall and even Bert Sutcliffe, why there were no Maoris in the All Black team. They had similar answers, " That is what the South Africans want,"

As a 12 year old I felt there was no justice in this world, yet on ANZAC day, we were told the Maori and Pakeha (European) had fought side by side in two world wars.

Well they weren't going to be playing side by side in the 1960 tour of South Africa.

So tomorrow as the New Zealand side plays South Africa with over 50% of it’s players of Polynesian origin, let's remember those New Zealanders of Polynesian descent who were barred from touring South Africa in 1960 - Waka Nathan, Mac Heriwini, Phillip Tautarangi, Ron Rangi, Manga Emery, Alby Pryor, Muru Walters, the Maniapoto brothers and many more who should have been in that 1960 team.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Mountains are spiritual places in most cultures

One of the enjoyable things about social media, is about being able to post something that means a lot to you, and others add their thoughts.

Today I posted this on facebook:

I think I realised that my main interest did not consist in trying to test my strength; nor was it essential for me to achieve some victory. The Mountains had taught me about life. I needed to learn that comfort and security are not essential prerequisites to a sense of satisfaction…. The mountains had already given me physical fitness and friends, a deeper appreciation of the planet in which we, a clearer perception of values distinquishing the stable and the essential from the petty and ephemeral… Mountaineering had to be the whole mountain experience - the huts in the valley, the shepherds in the upper valleys, the flowers by the glacier stream, the upper icefield, the snowy ridge, the rocky crest and the lonely summit. It was sufficient the mountains were aesthetically satisfying. I did not need to seek difficult climbs, although I tried to acquire competence to deal with difficulties that might arise in my quest for perfect accord with the mountain environment.

My old friend Akira Nakata from Japan replied:

" Very impressive commentary, Bob. In our country, different level of "mountaineering" has been a boom for long time. There are hundreds of novels, plays and songs, featuring mountains. Mt. Fuji could be our spiritual symbol. Recently, there is a guy at 30 year old, who already climbed all world summits, except Mt. Everest, where he has tried for two, three times in winter. What is controversial Nobukazu Kuriki is that he carries his video camera in one hand to report "live" climbing to his sponsors and supporters. He said "single" and "non-oxygen" climb but, in fact, many professional climbers pause a question why single as he used to start from the camp nearby the summit, which is established by many colleagues and local sherpas. However, for those young people or Sunday trekkers who can not experience such expedition, his spectacular "live" with painful breathing or frostbite risk is, indeed, very exciting, touching entertainment on the internet or TV programme. When I read your personal thought or spiritual value of mountain, I could not but think of this guy. One said that there is no rule on mountaineering but a manner. Thanks a lot, Bob."

I replied to Akira,

"I greatly enjoyed your comments about the important role of mountains in the spiritual and cultural life of your people. Modern day mountaineers such as Nobukazu Kuriki are playing to a certain audience that enjoys such stunts, without considering the ethics. To me, Naomi Uemura was Japan’s greatest modern day explorer and mountaineer for his solo achievements and his sincere modesty and unassuming nature. Another part of his greatness lay in his deep interest in everyone he met.

I also met Junko Tabei after her first ascent of Mt. Everest in 1975 when I was working for the Red Cross in Nepal.She was the first woman to climb Mt. Everest I believe, and was another humble and sincere person I had the good fortune to know. Both Junko and Naomi had the ‘manner’ you refer to in your comments. A New Zealand poet Charles Brasch's wrote something about mountains I am sure you will relate to."
"Man must lie with the gaunt hills like a lover,

Earning their intimacy in the calm sigh

Of a century of quiet and assiduity,

Discovering what solitude has meant

Before our headlong time broke on these waters,

And in himself unite time’s dual order;

For he both to the swift and slow belongs,

Formed for a hard and complex history

Monday, 10 September 2012

9/11 My memories of that day 11 years ago.

9/11- 2001, Ferney Voltaire, France

10 September 2001 (9/10)

I had just come back from a walk past soft yellow corn fields, caressed by the early morning sun, with the Jura mountains as a backdrop on my right, and Mont Blanc on the other side of the path.

On my return to my hotel I got a message from a close friend of mine in Kabul informing me that Ahmed Shah Massoud (pictured right with Bob McKerrow) is either dead or dying. He is one of Afghanistan’s greatest leaders of the last century. Some news reports say it could be the work of Osama bin Laden.

My friend Azem was also killed and Massood Khalili badly injured, the Ambassador to India and son of the great Afghan poet.

I thought at the time that something sinister was unfolding.

I think of the times I met Massoud during my stay in Afghanistan between 1993 and 96, and the hour interview I had with him before I left in August 1996. I wrote in my diary that night. “My heart bleeds for you Afghanistan; the pain and hurt you've been through. Penalised by your geographic location and the pawn of superpowers for so long.”

Flight 175 crashes at about 590 mph into the south face of the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, hitting the building between floors 77 and 85. All 65 people on board are killed. Parts of the plane leave the building from its east and north sides, falling to the ground as far as six blocks away.

I was in Ferny Voltaire France, for a Red Cross training course when this drama began unfolding..
The next day, 11 September (9/11) my mind kept going back to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his senseless killing by hired killers posing as Arab TV cameramen. Just before 4 pm, we broke for afternoon tea. As I picked up a cup of tea, the manager came running and shouting in French, something about a disaster in America. A group formed at the TV in the bar and watched an interviewer talking about a plane hitting the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, then seconds later we saw the most spine-chilling metal and human bomb plough into the second tower Later the full story was told, Two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. A third was flown into the Pentagon in the state of Virginia. A fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

I wrote on 9/11, "Massoud gone, many thousands of lives lost in the four plane hijacks......"

The scenarios began to build up in my mind; retaliations on Afghanistan yet again. Alexander the Great, The Arabs, The Turks, Chengis Khan, Timur, Persians, The British x 3, Soviet Union and now a US led westerncoalition is there.

TERROR ATTACK: The first World Trade Centre tower begins to implode in New York on September 11, 2001.

One week later (18 September) I am in Pakistan appointed to lead the International Red Cross operation as refugees from Afghanistan were beginning to come across the border. Predictions were that at least a million were expected to cross.

It was a very busy time working with the Pakistan Red Crescent getting relief supplies out to border camps, setting up reception camps and putting in water and sanitation facilities, reinforcing existing medical clincs.. I recall having outstanding colleagues like Naoki Kokawa, Patrick Fuller, Dr. Moin, Dr. Burki, Fred Grimm and John LaPointe.   I remember interviews with Lyse Doucet from the BBC, John Burns LA Times and hordes of others. Here is a press release dated 21 September, 2001.

Pakistan Red Crescent gear up to respond to Afghan refugee crisis
As uncertainty continues to prevail in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans are evacuating the country's major cities such as Kabul and Kandahar. Many are heading for the safety of mountainous areas in the interior of the country whilst tens of thousands have reportedly crossed into Pakistan despite the border remaining officially closed.

As anticipation of ever increasing numbers of Afghan refugees crossing into Pakistan grows, the Pakistan Red Crescent has already taken measures to respond to the crisis. An initial plan of action has been drawn up in consultation with the Federation and the ICRC and the first relief stocks have already left the Pakistan Red Crescent warehouses in Islamabad destined for the Baluchistan provincial branch headquarters in Quetta.

"Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan that is over 2,000 kms long and it is relatively porous in some areas particularly the stretch adjacent to Baluchistan," says Bob McKerrow, Federations Head of delegation for South Asia. "We know that there are thousands of people waiting on the other side of the border for the chance to cross. Our immediate priority is to help those who have already crossed as well as monitoring relief supplies in the event of a major exodus."

This week the Red Crescent sent 1,000 tents, 10,000 blankets and 3,000 plastic water containers from Islamabad to Quetta. A further 2,000 blankets were also sent to Quetta from the Sind provincial branch headquarters in Karachi.

"At this point we plan to assist 120,000 refugees through our branches in North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. It will be a major logistical challenge but we have already set up an operations room in our headquarters in Islamabad and we are identifying new warehousing space in Quetta," explains Dr. A. R Burki, Secretary General of the Pakistan Red Crescent.

The Pakistan Red Crescent is also planning to provide medical support to the refugees. Discussions are underway with government authorities in Quetta where a vacant hospital facility could be utilised by the Red Crescent. The Baluchistan branch already have four mobile health teams on standby. These teams were established with support from ECHO as part of the Red Crescent's response to the chronic drought which has affected the province for the past three years.In Peshawar the PRCS is considering utilising the Hayatabad paraplegic centre which was originally established in 1973 by the ICRC to rehabilitate war-wounded patients who had been evacuated from the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan. The centre was handed over to the Pakistan Red CS in 1996 and has a range of facilities including ultrasound and x-ray, two fully functional operating theatres a physiotherapy unit and a workshop which produces items such as calipers, crutches and artificial limbs.

To support their work and that of other Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, the Federation has launched an appeal for nearly 8.8 million Swiss francs (5.5 million US dollars) to beef up its state of readiness to respond to the needs of large population movements following the recent attacks in the United States.

The primary focus of the appeal is to provide shelter, health care, clean water and food for up to 300,000 people both in the five countries bordering Afghanistan (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan) and elsewhere if the need arises.

Finish of Press release

There were many of us who had worked in Afghanistan, written extensively on Afghanistan, and we were deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future.

So on on December 17, 2010, I was one of a number of writers who wrote an open letter to President Obama 

To the President of the United States:

Mr. President,

We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organisations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone.

This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.

Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army.

Politically, the settlement resulting from the 2001 intervention is unsustainable because the constituencies of whom the Taliban are the most violent expression are not represented, and because the highly centralised constitution goes against the grain of Afghan tradition, for example in specifying national elections in fourteen of the next twenty years.

The operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces are not going well. What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution. Drone strikes in Pakistan have a marginal effect on the insurgency but are destabilising Pakistan. The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.

The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure. Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement.

The 2014 deadline to put the Afghan National Army in command of security is not realistic. Considering the quick disappearance of the state structure at a district level, it is difficult to envision a strong army standing alone without any other state institutions around. Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not – contrary to what some may think – a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with al-Qaeda – which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more – are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system. The negotiations with the insurgents could be extended to all groups in Afghanistan and regional powers.

The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations – women and ethnic minorities, for instance – as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year. This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. Without any chance for a military victory, the current policy will put the United States in a very difficult position.

For a process of political negotiation to have a chance of addressing the significant core grievances and political inequalities it must occur on multiple levels – among the countries that neighbour Afghanistan as well as down to the provincial and subdistrict. These various tables around which negotiations need to be held are important to reinforce the message – and the reality – that discussions about Afghanistan’s political future must include all parties and not just be a quick-fix deal with members of the insurgency.

We believe that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan, enables the Taliban to become a responsible actor in the Afghan political order, ensures that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for international terrorism, protects the Afghan people’s hard-won freedoms, helps stabilise the region, renders the large scale presence of international troops in Afghanistan unnecessary and provides the basis of an enduring relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. All the political and diplomatic ingenuity that the United States can muster will be required to achieve this positive outcome. It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would allow the United States to exit Afghanistan while safeguarding its legitimate security interests.


Matthieu Aikins Journalist

Scott Atran Anthropologist (University of Michigan) and author of Talking to the Enemy

Rupert Talbot Chetwynd Author of Yesterday’s Enemy – Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Robert Abdul Hayy Darr Author of The Spy of the Heart and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Gilles Dorronsoro Visiting Scholar (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and author of Revolution Unending

David B. Edwards Anthropologist (Williams College) and author of Before Taliban Jason Elliot Author of An Unexpected Light

Antonio Giustozzi Author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop and editor of Decoding the New Taliban

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi Associate Professor, James Madison University

Daniel Korski Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

Felix Kuehn Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban

Minna Jarvenpaa Former Head of Analysis and Policy Planning, UNAMA

Anatol Lieven Professor, War Studies Department of King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

Bob McKerrow Author of Mountains of our Minds – Afghanistan

Alessandro Monsutti Research Director, Transnational Studies/Development Studies at The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Ahmed Rashid Journalist and author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos

Nir Rosen Fellow, New York University Center on Law and Security

Gerard Russell Research Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University

Alex Strick van Linschoten Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban

Astri Surkhe Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway

Yama Torabi Co-Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

Jere van Dyk Author of In Afghanistan and Captive

Matt Waldman Afghanistan Analyst

Here is a link to the BBC website that gives another take on 9/11 by a man who lives close to the world Trade Centre and how it changed his life.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Sustaining peace after war

Kabul in winter, 1996. photo: Bob McKerrow

Over the years I have been saying that the US and its allies should have taken note of  of the many thousands of years of recorded history on Afghanitsan to make sure they don't repeat mistakes made by other occupying powers.

I was fascinated by the article I attach below written by Jonathan Power, foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune. I hope the leaders of countries with troops in Afghanistan read and understand this advice.

When it comes to creating a peace in Afghanistan sufficient for the US and NATO to pull their troops out with some degree of confidence in the country’s future stability history offers conflicting lessons.

The mantra is that war-shattered states must be guided into a liberal democracy and a market-orientated economic system.

Yet there is much evidence that the process of political and economic liberalisation can sometimes do more harm than good in states that have just emerged from civil war. Liberalisation doesn’t always foster peace. Both democracy and capitalism are built on a paradox- the notion that societal competition can limit inter-communal competition and dampen conflict.

Last week’s peaceful if biased election in Angola is a reminder of the 1992 election meant to end the civil war. In fact it polarised the combatants’ political parties even more and rekindled the fighting.

Liberalisation did not help Rwanda avoid the genocide of 1994. The partial liberalisation of the popular media following the Arusha Declaration helped reignite the conflict. The growth of a vibrant but irresponsible anti-government press appeared to reinforce the desire of the extremists of the ruling Hutus not to share power with the Tutsis nor to allow the promised elections to proceed.

In Bosnia political liberalisation seems to have worked against the goal of building a lasting peace. The Dayton accords, signed in November 1995, mandated elections. But the elections in the following year consolidated the power of extremists and nationalists, reinforcing the country’s division into separate ethnic conclaves.

In Central America following peace agreements that led to elections in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala it has been economic rather than political liberalisation that has caused destabilising effects.

In El Salvador there has been a sharp increase in criminal violence giving it the world’s highest murder rate with a greater number of deaths than in the civil war. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank initiated in return for future help a fast purge of subsidies, public ownership, trade barriers and high government spending and employment. Realing from the effects of war this was the coup de grace, hitting disproportionately hard the rural poor and the urban working class. Unemployment shot up. Income distribution, the general welfare of the society (longevity, infant mortality etc) and poverty worsened. Crime took over.

In Nicaragua the imposed “structural adjustment” in 1990 led to a 50% drop in wages and a 30% drop in per capita food consumption. The 90s became a “lost decade”. At the time the newly deregulated financial and export sectors thrived but only helped a small proportion of the population. Reduced government spending made it difficult for the government to fulfil its war-ending promises of land reform and increased credit and agricultural aid. Crime increased sharply. An editorial in the New York Times in March 1990 made the point that “Central America’s warring nations have essentially returned to the conditions of misery and inequality that caused the wars to begin with.”

Nevertheless, there are examples, such as Angola and Mozambique, where peace has broken out after harsh civil wars and has been sustained.

There are two reasons. Both countries are neighbours of South Africa. South Africa was the puppeteer of the wars and once it forsook that role the countries more easily turned to peace than the Central American ones.

The second explanation is the economic benefits they obtained from bordering South Africa. This gave them the much needed foreign investment which financed massive industrial and infrastructure projects and gave their economies a boost during the precarious, early period of economic reform. Both countries have had a fast rate of economic growth.

Third, they were ruled by strong men. In Angola’s case by a relatively benign dictator, Jose dos Santos, who last week finally asked for a popular mandate; in Mozambique’s case through continuous elections that gave enormous power for 19 years to a popular leader, Joaquim Chissano.

We learn from all these case studies- Mozambique is an exception- that in many situations both severe economic reform and elections should be delayed until poverty-reducing programmes and cross-factional political parties and media institutions are more solidly established. Successful candidates should also be required to win a minimum level of support from each of the warring groups. (In presidential votes in Nigeria aspirants have to win not only a majority but at least 25% of the vote in two-thirds of the 19 states.) International lenders and financial institutions need to give more resources to improving income distribution and sustaining social programmes. This should come before or at the same time as “pruning” takes place.

We must learn from history and not make the same mistakes when negotiating and implementing the end of other bitter conflicts, including Afghanistan. It should not be forgotten that when Germany and Japan were defeated in the Second World War the allies enforced sensitive social and politically aware reforms. They seem to have lost their touch.