Soldier Exiting a UH-60 Black Hawk, courtesy of DVIDSHUB /flickr
NEW DELHI – Despite some last-minute brinkmanship by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the United States and Afghanistan seem to have worked out a bilateral security agreement to govern the 8,000-10,000 (mostly American) troops that will remain in Afghanistan from next year. But Afghanistan remains a source of significant uncertainty – and high anxiety – in an already unstable region.
Although the Afghan army has performed surprisingly well this year as it has prepared to assume full responsibility for the country’s security, governments in the region remain deeply skeptical of its ability to resist a resurgent Taliban without the strong support that the US has provided. But the Americans are intent on withdrawal, and no other country is willing to assume the responsibilities that they are relinquishing.
In this context, the fear that Afghanistan will unravel once again risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, a closer look at various key governments’ approaches to Afghanistan reveals that only the US is maintaining a coherent stance. » More
Sign in Zambia, Africa, courtesy of Jonrawlinson /Wikimedia Commons
ERFURT – In the battle against HIV/AIDS, South Africa was for many years the perfect example of what not to do. Until recently, the government’s response to the epidemic, which threatened the country’s very lifeblood, was lackluster and foolish. But rising pressure over the past two decades – from civil-society groups, the media, and more enlightened politicians – is finally showing results. A disease that has inflicted profound social and economic pain, and dramatically reduced life expectancy, appears to be in retreat.
But a new UN report suggests that South Africa’s battle against the virus is far from over. The country has the world’s most severe HIV problem, with some 5.6 million citizens – more than 10% of the population – currently living with the virus. Every year, around 300,000 new infections, and 270,000 AIDS-related deaths, are recorded. HIV/AIDS patients are also prone to other infections: an estimated 70% of South Africans with AIDS also contract tuberculosis, while half of those carrying the HIV virus are expected to do so during their lifetime. Worse, a third of pregnant women – a highly AIDS-prone demographic – have been diagnosed with the virus, which can be passed on to their babies during childbirth. » More
General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan. Photo: FSCEM45212/Wikimedia Commons
LAHORE – Pakistani institutions are evolving rapidly. With executive authority increasingly in the hands of elected representatives, rather than dispersed among various competing institutions, the political establishment has been revitalized – and it has taken three important steps toward strengthening democracy and the rule of law. Is Pakistan, a country long prone to military coups, finally developing a well-functioning political system?
On November 27, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain – acting on the prime minister’s advice, as the constitution dictates – announced that General Raheel Sharif would succeed General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as Chief of Army Staff, even though Sharif was not among the military establishment’s favored candidates. Unlike Kayani – who has directed the Directorate-General of Military Operations and the Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s spy agency) – Sharif has not served in any of the positions that typically prepare someone to lead Pakistan’s best-funded and most influential institution. » More
Mukuru, Kenya. Photo: SuSanA Secretariat/flickr.
By 2015, three billionpeople will be living in urban slums according to UN Habitat. As the number of vulnerable people living in urban slums rises, aid agencies are struggling to identify the tipping point at which chronic urban vulnerability turns into a humanitarian crisis. IRIN spoke to aid staff to find out what they are doing about it.
Accurately tracking vulnerability is more complex in densely populated towns and cities, particularly in informal neighbourhoods such as slums, than it is in rural areas. Aid agencies and donors have therefore been slow to take on the challenge, inadvertently creating a rural-urban divide. » More
Angela Merkel. Photo: Duncan Hull/flickr.
After two months of haggling, a final coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and the SPD has been hammered out. The 185 page- document is with the title “Shaping Germany’s future” is supposed to set the tone for Germany’s new ‘grand coalition’ (in Germany the coalition is also known as GroKo which stands for Große Koalition). However, the deal sends a clear message: Merkel still holds the reigns and we are not about to witness a volte-face in German policies on Europe and foreign affairs.
The broad consensus established in the coalition agreement means that there is little sign of major innovation or a drastic change in direction in terms of European and foreign policy. On one hand, this can be seen as uninspired as the incoming German government demonstrates no real ambition for leadership in European and international affairs – with the notable exception of the euro crisis. On the other hand, as long as nobody moves, nobody gets hurt; Germany remains a reliable and unobtrusive partner in the world. » More