Sudan Dispatch: Homeward Bound
January 12, 2011

Bentiu, Sudan—In the center of this southern town, in a dusty public square with just a few trees for precious shade, 19 busloads of people arrived from Khartoum on Sunday, the first day of voting in this week’s historic referendum for independence. They were just a fraction of the 36,800 “returnees” that officials estimate have flooded into Unity state, of which Bentiu is the capital city, over the past two months.

Sudan Dispatch: High Stakes
January 08, 2011

Bentiu, Sudan—The stakes of this get-out-the-vote campaign are the highest of any in recent memory. Starting on Sunday, citizens of southern Sudan will participate in a week of voting on a referendum that, if it passes, will make the south an independent nation. For the results to be valid, however, 60 percent of the 3.9 million people who have registered to vote must cast ballots. Here in Unity state, which would be on the northern border of the new South Sudan, officials report with pride that they have the most registered voters of any state (over 500,000).

How To Save Pakistan From the Abyss
January 08, 2011

The assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s largest province—and the wave of support for the assassin from Islamic extremists—underscores how close to the abyss the world’s second largest Muslim country has come. Taseer was an outspoken critic of religious extremism and a defender of civilian government. Like Benazir Bhutto, he was murdered by the dark forces in Pakistan that seek to create an Islamic emirate. In the wake of this disaster, many will be tempted to go to the generals and look for a strongman, perhaps army chief of staff General Kayani, to maintain order.

Wiki Rehab
January 07, 2011

American diplomacy seems to have survived Wikileaks’s “attack on the international community,” as Hillary Clinton so dramatically characterized it, unscathed. Save for a few diplomatic reshuffles, Foggy Bottom doesn’t seem to be deeply affected by what happened. Certainly, the U.S. government at large has not been paralyzed by the leaks—contrary to what Julian Assange had envisioned in one of his cryptic-cum-visionary essays, penned in 2006.

Sudan Dispatch: Will Oil Keep the Peace?
January 07, 2011

Bentiu, Sudan—Two days ago, President Omar Al Bashir made what is likely to be his last visit to Juba, the southern capital, as the head of a unified Sudan. Promising to be “the first to recognize the south” if southerners vote for independence in this weekend’s referendum, Al Bashir’s conciliatory tone left people here scratching their heads about his real intentions. Mistrust of his ruling National Congress party is intense in the south, and, until last week, officials in Khartoum had been uniformly hostile about the possibility of secession.

Sudan Dispatch: Is the End in Sight?
January 05, 2011

Juba, Sudan—In just four days, the people of southern Sudan will begin voting in a referendum on whether to become an independent nation. In hundreds of interviews over the past six years here, I have yet to meet a southerner who doesn’t want freedom from northern rule. People here are literally counting down the minutes until the vote. (At a roundabout in the center of town, an electronic countdown on an advertising billboard has been running the days, hours, and minutes remaining since October.) It is hard to convey what it feels like in the southern Sudan capital of Juba.

The Rise of Femicide
December 29, 2010

During the last decade, Guatemala has experienced an epidemic of woman-killing. The bodies are everywhere: turning up in ditches on the side of the road, on the curbs of city streets, and in wooded ravines, often with signs of mutilation and rape.

Mayhem in Minsk
December 21, 2010

Minsk, Belarus—On Sunday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was reelected to five more years in office. He garnered 80 percent of the vote, according to official numbers. In past elections, Lukashenko, often called “Europe’s last dictator,” all but prevented anyone from directly challenging him. But, this year, he earned widespread recognition for orchestrating an election that was “much freer than the past,” featuring all the trappings of an open and fair process.

Back to Normalcy
December 21, 2010

Where on earth is the United States headed? Has it lost its way? Is the Obama effect, which initially promised to halt the souring of its global image, over? More seriously, is it in some sort of terminal decline? Has it joined the long historical list of number one powers that rose to the top, and then, as Rudyard Kipling outlined it, just slowly fell downhill: “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / At one with Nineveh and Tyre”? Has it met its match in Afghanistan?

What Poets Can Teach Us About the War in Afghanistan
December 20, 2010

The editor of a journal recently asked me to write an article addressing this question: “What will Afghanistan look like in 2020?” I declined, saying that my contribution would consist of two words: “Who knows?” I should have added: “Who cares?” The answer, of course, in that everyone in Washington seems to care. Indeed, Washington obsesses about Afghanistan—hence, the never-ending stream of assessments and reassessments, study group reports and op-eds to which we are treated, each possessing a shelf life of approximately 15 minutes.