Leela Jacinto is an award-winning international news reporter who has doggedly pursued stories across the globe. Along the way, she has harangued some officials, wined and dined with others, but has always kept her eyes on what’s in it for ordinary folks. A graduate of New York University, Leela has previously worked for ABC News in New York before joining FRANCE 24. In this blog, she provides insights on things you don’t necessarily see in the news bytes.

Time to Go: Why Did 2 Top Afghan Security Bosses Quit?

Nobody really accepted the official version of the story. So now that the theories are starting to roll out, they’re worth considering.

On Sunday, the Afghan presidential palace announced the resignations of the country’s interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh.

The breaking news alert was presented as a fait accompli and caught everyone by surprise. Usually this sort of news starts with unconfirmed reports, followed by official confirmations, which in turn are followed by official announcements. This time, the old steps were skipped.


Instead, we got a statement from the presidential palace, no less, informing us that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had already accepted the resignations. The stated reason was the officials’ failure to prevent the attacks on the peace jirga. (See blog, “Let the jirga games begin – with a bang")

Yesterday’s leaders have a plan for tomorrow’s peace

In the end, the 1,600-odd jirga delegates hammered out a proposal – that’s the good news.

But that’s also hardly surprising. The delegates were, after all, handpicked by the Karzai administration.

Where was Rashid Dostum, the warlord from the North and powerful Junbish boss? Count the Uzbeks out.

No sign of Mohammad Mohaqiq either. Should we count the Hazaras out as well?

And then, there were the old familiars: Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan prime minister, the man who could not control Afghanistan’s descent into civil war following the Soviet withdrawal.

Rabbani of all people was made jirga chair in a last-minute pre-jirga negotiation.

If we’re looking to Rabbani for the future stability of Afghanistan, I’m investing in a new wardrobe of body armor for the future.

Let the jirga games begin – with a bang

After many delays, several faux pas, and much discourse over conflicting goals and a lack of direction, the much-awaited peace jirga kicked off this morning – with a bang.


The usual bang – or bangs – it must be said, although this time, the rockets came pretty close.


The first one came just as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was delivering the inaugural address inside the giant white tent erected on the grounds of the Kabul Polytechnic University.


It did however provide an opportunity for some quintessentially Karzai stabs at humor. “Perhaps someone’s trying to fire a rocket,” he quipped in deadpan mode. “Even a three-year-old would not be afraid. Let’s continue.” And continue he did, to his credit.


But then, as the sounds of rockets and gunfire inched closer, Karzai wrapped up his speech and promptly left.


Hafiz Saeed is free, roll out the sweets - again

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that Hafiz Saeed, head of the Islamic group accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, cannot be detained.

No surprises here. It’s the same old story with a familiar plot and the inevitable ending.

The court ruled that the evidence against Saeed was weak. That’s true because there’s very little teeth to legal actions taken against Saeed.

Pakistani authorizes have never filed criminal or terrorist charges against the leader of the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), a banned group now operating as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Instead, Saeed tends to get detained under the MPO (Maintenance of Public Order) law. In legal terms, that entails a limited detention period until a court ruling. In plain-speak, it’s a light rap on the knuckles for disorderly conduct.

This has happened before. In 2009 and 1996, Saeed was let go under MPO.


Shahzad: A ‘singleton’ simpleton?

A week after Faisal Shahzad stormed the headlines more successfully than he stormed Times Square, a new mot du jour is making the rounds.

In case you haven’t caught it on the punditry trail as yet, it’s “singleton”.

Yes, singleton. Never knew that one before – thought it had something to do with mathematics or software programming. But now here it is on the counter-terror talk shows.

Richard Clarke, former US anti-terror czar, dropped the word during his interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s GPS this weekend. Steve Coll was on it last week, in his blog posting, "The case of Faisal Shahzad" (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/stevecoll/2010/05/the-case-of-faisal-shahzad.html)

Hakimullah Mehsud: Death by drone, resurrection by video

He’s dead. He’s alive. He’s dead. He’s alive.


It’s hard to keep up with the number of times Tehrik-e-Taliban’s goateed, AK-47-toting, beret-sporting chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, has been definitively killed - only to rise again.


But I’m trying.


Let’s see…he was declared dead last October, I remember.


But then he surfaced and issued a statement that read like a Journalism 101 class. Get your facts right, Mehsud jeered, noting that reports couldn’t seem to decide if he was killed on his way to Multan, Arukzai or Shaktai.


Then he was killed again in Jan this year. This time in Orakzai. No wait, it was South Waziristan. Or was it the North? Unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials swore on this latest drone strike. Successors were named and analyzed.


I remember the succession list included Qari Hussain Mehsud. This pleased me since I’m a creature of continuity.


An uncivil Thursday

Oh dear, bad day, sad day.


First the news of French military officials acknowledging the killing of four Afghan civilians in a joint French-Afghan operation north of Kabul.


At least the French military seem to have learned from the mistakes of the Germans during last year’s deadly Kunduz incident, and admitted – and apologized – quickly. (See video below).


It’s here, the much-awaited Pentagon Afghanistan progress report

Just printed my weekend reading: the much-awaited Pentagon report to Congress titled, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”. That’s 152 pages of mostly not-so-good, but not-all-that-bad either progress report on Afghanistan from Oct. 1, 2009 through March 2010.

For those interested in ploughing through the report, just click here.

For those interested in a summary, here goes: Overall, there were real signs of progress on stability, thanks to the military surge.

Bad news for Afghan President Hamid Karzai though as he prepares for his Washington visit next month: the Afghan population supports Karzai’s government only 29 of the 121 strategically important provinces.

The reason for this? Corruption and inefficiency. This is not going make the current resident at the Arg (the Afghan Presidential Palace) very happy - just as Washington and Kabul were trying to mend those fences…

The lady, it seems, is a spy

This just in: An Indian diplomat posted in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad has been arrested for allegedly spying and transferring strategic information about India to arch foe, Pakistan, according to Indian media reports.

The diplomat, 53-year-old Madhuri Gupta, was summoned to New Delhi a few days ago on the pretext of holding discussions on the upcoming SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Coopertation) summit in Bhutan.  She was then arrested and produced before a Delhi court. 

Indian media reports say Gupta is a “spinster” – the word “single” apparently has not made it into many Indian news organizations’ lexicons. Apparently, she got a hold of sensitive information from the station chief of the Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) in Islamabad, a certain Mr. R. K. Sharma.

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Champagne Nights in Kabul: The S&M Guide to the New Great Game

It’s a last-minute, two-day stopover – sounds innocuous enough.

But nothing is innocuous in this region. And so, a last-minute, two-day stopover has triggered a new game of intrigue - complete with the usual suspicions and false starts – in the region’s capitals.

Round one kicked off with the weekend announcement that Afghan President Hamid Karzai would stop by the Indian capital of New Delhi on Monday on his way to the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in Bhutan.

Since Kabul International Airport does not feature direct Kabul-Thimpu flights to the Bhutanese capital, a stopover in New Delhi seems sensible and well...innocuous.

Aha! Wrong.

Afghanistan is the board-game on which Islamabad and New Delhi play out their mutually suspicious, mutually antagonistic interests. So, if an Afghan leader drops by one capital, you can be dead sure the other capital is bristling.

The vanity contest – again

I can’t believe it. They did it again. When will the Americans ever learn?

Senior Afghan officials have announced that the much-awaited peace jirga scheduled for May 2 has been postponed until after Afghan President Hamid Karzai returns from his Washington trip next month.

All very well. Except that once again, a senior US official had announced this important piece of information BEFORE the Afghan government.

At a briefing in Washington on Monday, April 22, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke rolled out the following dates at a press briefing. “President Karzai will be here [in Washington] May 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and leave on the 14th,” Holbrooke told reporters before adding that the peace jirga is “now scheduled for May 20th”.

The US had jumped the gun again, irking Afghan officials who said they had not taken any decisions a peace jirga postponement nor did they set a new date until Wednesday.

The message is clear: guess who calls the shots in Kabul.

Pillory Hillary with anti-KLB fervour

The Nov. 16 issue of the New Yorker hasn’t yet slipped under my door and the local Pakistani papers are already discussing the latest Sy Hersh piece with the ardor and candor of Lahore housewives trading Lollywood gossip.

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