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The present NATO strategy in Afghanistan is referred to as COIN (counterinsurgency strategy). The main objective of this strategy is gaining the trust of Afghan civilians by winning their “hearts and minds,” a strategy that decreased violence and possibly prevented an all out civil war in Iraq in 2007. In Afghanistan however, violence has increased dramatically the past two years, and although it is still early to say whether the COIN strategy is working or not, the statistics show a dark image of the future of the country. Lorenzo Zambernardi, a University of Bologna-Forli lecturer and doctoral candidate of Ohio State University’s Political Science department has written an interesting article on the “impossible trilemma of counterinsurgency.”

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Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran is ready to resume talks with the West regarding its nuclear program. He stated however, that any negotiations will fail if the West does not clearly come out against Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal. He made it clear that there will be no achievements whatsoever if the West does not change its policy towards Israel, Iran’s archrival. The West, especially the U.S., will have to make great sacrifices in its foreign relations with Israel in order to meet Iran’s demands, which is something that is highly unlikely to happen. It may appear that Iran is using Israel’s suspected nuclear program in a way to move tensions away from its own.

EU foreign affairs and security Chief Catherine Ashton has suggested the talks to be held in Vienna in November with the P5+1 Countries (the U.S., the U.K., China, France and Russia plus Germany) while U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was up to Iran to set a date. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has signaled that October or November seems like a suitable time for talks with P5 + 1.

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One of the main reasons for the declining violence in Iraq the past few years was that the Sunni insurgents gave up their arms and started working with and for the American military and the Shia government. Salaries from the Americans and promises of jobs and influence within the government made the Sunnis realize that supporting Al-Qaeda would have devastating results for Iraq and possibly throw the country in to an all-out civil war. This switch of sides is known as the “Sunni Awakening”, and it has helped in restoring hopes for a more secure Iraq.

In the past few months however, Iraq has seen an increase in violence, as the Americans are withdrawing and the country is at a political standstill. Members of the Sunni awakening group are also switching sides again, due to an Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia recruitment offensive. The Sunni ex-insurgents are complaining that they are not getting the relevant jobs they were promised by the government, and that salaries are rarely being paid. An ex–Awakening Council leader, Nathum al-Jubouri says that “The Awakening does not know what the future holds because it is not clear what the government intends for them.”  Less than half of all Awakening members have been offered jobs within the government, and rejoining Al-Qaeda and the insurgency seems like the only solution for many of the Awakening members.

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The governments of Belgium, France and Denmark have now forbid (or are in the process of forbidding) Muslim women to wear the burqa in the public sphere. Brendan O’Neill, journalist with Spiked Online, writes that these bans are alienating Europe from the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, the very ideas that have laid the foundation for tolerance in Europe. France has presented this ban as a continuation of the ideas of the Enlightenment, in a way to protect its own values instead of the old fashioned religious ones, when in reality, this ban will only hinder the human right to express one’s religious beliefs, which is contradictory to what the Enlightenment was all about.

The problem with this ban is that it is a ban against the symbol of oppression, not the oppression itself. The oppression lies within cultural differences that will not disappear with the banning of the veil. If the European governments want to integrate the very small number of women wearing the burqa or niqab, there are other more efficient ways to do so, rather than to risk that these women will never leave their house again. Proper education, training and suitable jobs are a way to go, but this will require strong political will amongst politicians to achieve, as well as an effort made by the different ethnic communities around Europe. In this case, it may seem easier to just ban the burqa.

A discussion has arisen about whether Europe has lost its tolerance. There is a fear that this ban might increase intolerance towards Muslims, and that the fact that these liberal democracies are legislating what persons can or cannot wear might be a sign that the open and free values of Europe are declining. You do not have to respect the burqa or what it symbolizes, but forbidding people to wear different clothes than you is a far step away from the values of the Age of Enlightenment, which secured the freedom to express oneself for all living in liberal democracies.

About 40 % of the Afghan population are Pashtuns, and there are 4 million Pashtuns living in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a nation divided, a nation that holds the key to security in the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a Pasthun native, has to some degree neglected the Pasthun population the past 9 years, and while keeping up a tight relationship with India, Pakistan is stirring up the Pashtuns in order to undermine the Afghan government.

The relationship amongst the Pashtun people is one of the reasons why the U.S. objective of a secure and stable Afghanistan has failed so far. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code, was one of the reasons the Pashtun population of Baluchistan, FATA and the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan gave shelters to the Taliban and al-Qaeda warriors, and thereby letting them regroup and conduct operations, rest and recreate, and train from inside their bases within Pakistan. This creates a situation that makes it difficult for the U.S. and NATO to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, as most of the main insurgent groups have their bases in Pakistan. The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are the most violent regions in Afghanistan, and the insurgents in these provinces conduct their operations from Pakistan (e.g. the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network)

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As the international community views all Israel settlements as illegal, Israelis moved in to 4 new villages only hours after the 10 month building moratorium was over. The political goal of the settlers is to occupy so much land that a shared state between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. What will happen to the peace talks between Israel and Palestine now is uncertain. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this Saturday that Israel now will have to choose between “peace or settlements”. Abbas now is in a tight spot, as he risks losing support with both the Palestinians and members of his own Fatah party if he continues the peace talks even though the Israelis are restarting their settlements processes. At the same time, Fatah has started a reappeasement process with Hamas, and they have appearantly agreed upon the procedures for new elections. As Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group, and so does the EU and the U.S., it might be difficult for Abbas to have a normalized relationship with Hamas, and still negotiate peace talks with Israel.

Abbas has said that the peace talks will end if Israel restarts the building of the settlements, but the Palestinian president has called a meeting with the Arab League on October 4th to discuss the situation, and review his options. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that his intentions for peace are genuine. The big issue still remains that as long as the Israelis are building settlements in the middle of the West Bank, the more unlikely will we see a two-state solution to this conflict. And even if the peace talks will be somewhat successful, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will still be in conflict with Israel, as Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, the U.S. pressure to keep the peace talks going might be the extra push to the backs of both the Palestinians and the Israelis (at least to get back on track). The U.S., in the long run, is hoping that the parties will go back to negotiate the Arabian Initiative from 2001/02 that said that if Israel will withdraw from the occupied areas, there will be a total peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Syria is essential in this, considering that Israel still occupies the Golan Heights. Even though such an agreement may seem long ahead in the future, it is a beginning.

What looked as an easy win for the Conservative alliance in the Swedish Parliamentary election, has turned out to become a possible political chaos. To win the election in Sweden your party or alliance needs to win the most mandates. The Conservatives did win the election with 172 mandates, while the Social Democrats got 157, which is more close than anticipated. However, what frightens many is that the Swedish Democrats (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_Democrats), a party very hostile to immigration and ties to Nazi Organizations, had their best election ever, with 5,8 % of the votes, which is 20 mandates. This means that for the Conservatives to keep their majority in the Riksdag (parliament) they may be forced to join forces with those who have the mandates they need. Officially, the Green party has turned down the offer to cooperate as they belong to the left block of the political spectrum. This is a complicated situation, because if the Green Party refuses to cooperate with the Conservative Alliance, it means that the Swedish Democrats may have some influence on Swedish politics in years to come, and thereby lay the foundations for gaining even greater strength towards the next Parliamentary election in 4 years.

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