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Obama, Karzai Strive To Project Unity, Deny Serious Differences

By Jonathan Landay for The Kansas City Star

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai asserted Wednesday that progress is being made toward crushing the Taliban-led insurgency, but new studies on the Afghan army and police raise serious doubts about whether the strategy can succeed before a U.S. troop drawdown begins in July 2011.

Flanked by Karzai at a White House news conference, Obama urged Americans to have patience with the “joint strategy” that he unveiled in December to stabilize Afghanistan, defeat the insurgency and prevent the country’s reversion to a Qaida sanctuary. He warned, however, that “there is going to be some hard fighting over the next couple of months.”

He apparently was referring to the summer “fighting season” that’s traditionally racked Afghanistan and that this year will see a drive to clear the Taliban from the southern city of Kandahar that’s being supplemented by an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

The joint news conference was the public high point of a tightly scripted four-day visit in which Karzai was feted, praised and lavished with the full red-carpet treatment by the U.S. administration, which is determined to reset a relationship scarred by feuding and anti-American tirades by the Afghan leader amid record bloodshed.

The administration concluded that the tensions were an obstacle to Afghan cooperation on a number of fronts central to Obama’s strategy, especially the operations to drive the Taliban from their strongholds in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, turn them over to government control and jump-start economic development.

Moreover, U.S. officials want to reassure Karzai and ordinary Afghans – as well as regional powers that already are jockeying for influence – that the U.S. troop drawdown doesn’t mean that the United States will abandon Afghanistan as it did after the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, which was followed by a vicious 12-year civil war.

“We are not suddenly as of July 2011 finished with Afghanistan,” Obama said. “This is a long-term partnership that is not simply defined by our military presence.”

Obama and Karzai sought to present a portrait of unity, saying that progress is being made by the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign, by an American effort to avert civilian casualties and by Karzai on his vows to clean up narcotics-fueled corruption and boost public services, the rule of law and good governance.

“Our solidarity today sends an unmistakable message to those who would stand in the way of Afghanistan’s progress,” Obama said. “They will try to drive us apart, but we will partner with the Afghan people for the long term, toward a future of greater security, prosperity, justice and progress. And I am absolutely convinced we will succeed.”

Obama conceded that “there are going to be tensions in such a complicated and difficult environment and in a situation in which, on the ground, both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices.”

However, he said, a lot of “perceived tensions” between the sides “were simply overstated.”

“It’s a real relationship,” Karzai agreed. “It’s based on some very hard realities. We are in a campaign against terrorism together. There are days that we are happy. There are days that we are not happy.

“The bottom line is that we are much more strongly related to each other than we ever were before. That is a good message that I will take back to the Afghan people.”

U.S.-led international efforts have made considerable progress in helping to bring stability, education, health care and development to many parts of the country of 32 million people since the 2001 invasion drove the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership into neighboring Pakistan.

However, the Taliban and allied groups – aided by al-Qaida and the former Bush administration’s diversion of U.S. forces, time and money to Iraq – staged a major comeback that’s surged as U.S. commanders struggle to implement Obama’s strategy.

New reports on the Afghan army and police – each a crucial element of Obama’s plan to transfer responsibility for districts cleared of insurgents to Afghan government control as the U.S. troop drawdown begins – underscore the enormous hurdles that persist.

A report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group, a respected conflict-prevention organization, says that the Afghan army is suffused with corruption, desertions, ethnic tensions and disputes between its highest leaders.

The report warns that Obama’s plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 240,000 troops from 90,000 by 2013 could worsen those problems and “risk the army’s disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces.”

A report by the Rand Corp. research center on the Afghan Civil Order Police, an elite unit that’s playing a key role in Helmand and Kandahar, found that the contingent is infected with the same problems of corruption and ineptitude that plague other police forces.

ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to shake down residents, been kicked out of the unit for drug use and been shunned in some areas as outsiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on the Rand Corp. analysis, who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Relations between Kabul and Washington have been brittle since Obama took office last year, shaken by U.S. criticism of Karzai’s failure to crack down on official corruption, his dubious dependability, his reliance on a patronage network of warlords and family members, and the massive fraud that marred his re-election to another term last August.

For his part, Karzai has complained about civilian casualties caused by U.S. military operations and launched tirades against the United States and his other international backers, reflecting his unpopularity among ordinary Afghans, who are angry that the war is still raging nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion.

“We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties not because it’s a problem for President Karzai. We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties because I don’t want civilians killed,” said Obama, who noted that the Taliban have killed more civilians.

A Pentagon report last month said the overall level of violence in Afghanistan rose 87 percent from February 2009 to March 2010. More than 1,760 international troops – including 1,068 Americans – have been killed, according to, a website that tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of Afghan security forces, officials and civilians have been killed and wounded. There are currently 102,000 troops from 46 nations, including the United States, in Afghanistan. There will be 98,000 U.S. troops there when the surge is completed later this summer.


Pressure Builds on Pakistan’s Military

By Omar Waraich for

“When in doubt, do nothing” could have served as the Pakistani military’s unofficial motto until now on the tricky question of tackling militant strongholds in the tribal badlands of North Waziristan. But doing nothing may no longer be an option, now that the Obama Administration is blaming the failed Times Square bomb attack on the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Washington has long cajoled the Pakistani army to extend its campaign against militants on its own soil into North Waziristan, where the TTP leadership has set up shop amid a viper’s nest of militant groups that include al-Qaeda, but the generals have until now demurred, claiming a lack of resources. Following reports that Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad was trained by TTP elements in North Waziristan, the pressure on Pakistan from Washington has sharply increased, leaving the Pakistani military leadership in an increasingly uncomfortable position.

On May 7, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, met with Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, reportedly to coax Pakistan into moving into North Waziristan. And on May 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sternly warned of “very severe consequences” for Pakistan if an attack similar to the one tried in Times Square were to prove successful.

Pakistanis are already embarrassed at the fact that Shahzad was not only born in Pakistan and is alleged to have been trained there, but is also the son of a retired senior military officer. More alarming still is the apparent move by the TTP, until now a domestic insurgency directed at the Pakistani state, to target a U.S. city in retaliation for drone attacks in Pakistan. That leaves Pakistan’s political and military leadership to find a response sensitive to both the needs of a key ally and the concerns of a skeptical public.

Wary of U.S. motives at the best of times, Pakistani public opinion was rankled by Clinton’s warning. Even liberal newspapers committed to fighting militancy warned of the statement’s unintended effects. “Ms. Clinton’s comments are unfortunate and will rekindle suspicions here that America is no real friend of Pakistan,” said an editorial in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading newspaper. The fear is that those who oppose the campaign against jihadist militancy will turn Pakistani ire at Clinton’s perceived bullying to their advantage in the battle for Pakistani hearts and minds.

But while an offensive launched under pressure from the U.S. could antagonize the Pakistani public, there could be an even greater backlash should the U.S. decide to take matters into its own hands. This year alone has seen at least 32 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, principally at targets in North Waziristan, and that program — which infuriates many Pakistanis — is set to continue. While the authorities may be able to absorb the political fallout from the increasingly accurate drone strikes, their real worry is that Washington might decide to send its own ground forces into North Waziristan. “[The presence of U.S. troops] would be truly disastrous,” says Aftab Sherpao, who served as Interior Minister under former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. The mere presence of foreign soldiers, he believes, would inflame public opinion to dangerous proportions, weakening the hand of the civilian government and the army. In September 2008, the only known case of an American boots-on-the-ground operation triggered a chorus of outrage, led by General Kayani himself.

Even if the U.S. refrained from expanding its own actions on Pakistani soil, the generals and politicians also fear that failure to act could jeopardize the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in civilian and military aid from Washington. Given the risks that follow from doing nothing, Pakistan will have to take action. “The army realizes that it must go into North Waziristan,” says retired Pakistani general and analyst Talat Masood. “They have been looking at this option for quite some time, but they have been hesitant, as they are overstretched.” Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are already fanned out across the northwest and the tribal areas in an effort to consolidate gains made in recent offensives. “Washington should appreciate that we have covered a lot of area,” insists Sherpao, the former Interior Minister. “There have been operations in Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand and South Waziristan. We cannot move troops from the eastern border because there’s no comfort as far as India is concerned.” As the military’s decision to test-fire two ballistic missiles at the weekend demonstrates, India remains its principal focus.

The Pakistani military has long drawn a distinction between the Taliban, and related insurgent groups, using its soil as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and those waging war on the Pakistani state. The Afghanistan-oriented groups have been allowed to operate largely unmolested in keeping with Pakistan’s desire to recover lost influence in Afghanistan, while the military has gone after the TTP. But as the army pushed into the TTP’s strongholds in South Waziristan, the group moved north, into territory controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur — a militant leader who enjoys a fragile nonaggression pact with the Pakistan army. “It’s a very complex area,” says Masood, “particularly because there are elements there that are not so hostile to the Pakistani military.” By that he means the Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda linked Afghan Taliban group deemed one of the most dangerous confronting the U.S. in Afghanistan but viewed as a strategic asset by Pakistan’s intelligence services. “The army will prefer to take a limited operation, one that is confined to the Mehsud areas,” says Masood, referring to TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

But North Waziristan is only one part of the jihadist infrastructure that enables terror attacks beyond Pakistan’s borders. As Shahzad’s alleged story — making contact with militant elements in Karachi before heading off to North Waziristan for training — demonstrates, there are jihadist groups seeded throughout the country, and they’re strengthening their cooperative ties with one another.

Dismantling that infrastructure will take years, say Pakistani analysts and politicians. “You can’t start operations against all these groups simultaneously,” says Sherpao. “You have to proceed step by step. You have to consolidate your gains first, then move on to the next target.” But the Shahzad case, says Sherpao, should serve as a wake-up call. “The political and military leadership have to sit down now and devise a serious response,” he says. “Otherwise, it will become very difficult.”

Militant Factions With Global Aims Are Spreading Roots Throughout Pakistan

By Karin Brulliard and Pamela Constable for The Washington Post

KARACHI, PAKISTAN- Terrorism suspect Faisal Shahzad’s alleged path to Times Square reflects what experts say is a militant support network that spans Pakistan and is eager to shepherd aspiring terrorists from around the globe. In this teeming southern metropolis, authorities are focusing on a domestic militant outfit that might have escorted Shahzad to distant northern peaks where U.S. investigators allege he received training with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani Taliban. In Pakistan’s heartland, extremist organizations freely build compounds and campaign with politicians, while their foot soldiers fight alongside the Taliban in the borderlands, intelligence officials say.

The overall picture is one of a jumbled scaffolding of militancy that supports al-Qaeda and the Taliban with money and safe houses, and can provide entrance tickets to mountain training camps for aspiring terrorists, one U.S. counterterrorism official said. Although the planners of most serious terror plots against the West in recent years have received direction or training from groups in the Afghanistan Pakistan border region, the reach of extremist organizations across Pakistan underscores the limits of Pakistani military offensives and of U.S. airstrikes that target the Taliban and al-Qaeda only along the frontier.

“Our cells are working everywhere,” one Pakistani Taliban fighter said in a telephone interview. New foreign recruits, among them Europeans and Americans, undergo days of isolation and “complete observation” by militants outside the tribal areas before gaining access to camps, he said.
Many such aspirants do not make it, the Taliban fighter said, because they are deemed to be spies. That happened to five Northern Virginia men, who were rebuffed by Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-i-Taiba last year despite the reference of an online recruiter, according to Pakistani authorities. However, those aspirants deemed sincere represent a “one in a million” opportunity for militants to strike in the West, said Masood Sharif Khattak, a former Pakistani Intelligence Bureau chief. Their first stop is typically not the mountains of Waziristan, where Shahzad told U.S. investigators he had trained, but 1,000 miles south in Karachi, the Taliban fighter said.

An Arabian Sea gateway of 18 million people, the city is awash in weapons and dotted with mosques where, police say, jihadist literature is freely distributed and clerics deliver vitriolic anti-American sermons. Among them is the Bath’ha mosque and seminary, an unassuming building known locally as a bastion for Jaish-e-Mohammed, a banned Kashmir-focused group. Authorities said they have arrested a man at the mosque who escorted Shahzad to the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Operatives from Pakistan’s array of jihadist groups find haven in Karachi’s multiethnic sprawl; Afghan Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested in the city earlier this year.

The groups form a nexus, according to recent local intelligence reports. One report, obtained by The Washington Post, warns of coordinated plans by the Pakistani Taliban — a group based in the tribal areas that has focused its attacks inside Pakistan — and the traditionally anti-India militant groups of Punjab province. The target: NATO supply convoys in Karachi.

Farther north in the expanse of Punjab, experts say the major anti-India militant groups and other radical Sunni organizations need little cover: They are tolerated and even supported by the state. Banned groups such as Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have formed organizations with new names that operate freely. Some of their leaders have been arrested for alleged links to terrorist attacks, then released by the courts.
The groups have in recent years increasingly focused attacks within Punjab as provincial officials have tried to placate them, both to capitalize on their popularity and in hopes of moderating their views.

The chief provincial minister, Shahbaz Sharif, was widely criticized in March for calling on the Pakistani Taliban to “spare Punjab,” which he suggested had common cause with the militants by rejecting Western dictates. Another provincial minister visited the seminary of a banned group and campaigned for office with the leader of another. Jaish-e-Mohammed recently built a large walled compound in the southern Punjabi city of Bahawalpur.

“These groups have not been touched,” said Ahmed Rashid, a leading Pakistani expert on the Taliban and Islamist extremism. “They have been through a metamorphosis and turned their guns inward and linked up with other groups in the northwest, but no one is acknowledging it. The word is out that if you hang with them, you’re safe.”

The counterinsurgency tactics used in the tribal areas — missiles and military operations — are widely thought to be unfeasible in Pakistan’s populous mainland. But critics say Pakistani police, security agencies and officials could at least start to clamp down on extremist organizations by vocally condemning them, monitoring mosques and madrassas and denying public space and private property to militant-linked groups.

Pakistan says it is still investigating the extent of Shahzad’s militant links; some security officials have said that he definitely had ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed. Terrorism analyst Muhammad Amir Rana said that what appears to be a lack of political will to tackle militant organizations in Pakistan’s heartland is actually rooted in a problem with far greater implications for the global battle against terror: The groups’ reach and presence in cities has made them a beast that cannot easily be dismantled. “It’s very complex,” Rana said. “They have infrastructure in all different areas.”

Media Ignore The Fact That Man Who Alerted Police To Failed Times Square Bombing Is A Muslim Immigrant

By Zaid Jilani for

The chief suspect in the case of the failed Times Square car bombing is Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who has confessed to the plot. Much of the media has latched onto Shahzad’s Muslim faith and his Pakistani identity, making inflammatory remarks and suggestions about Muslims and Pakistanis:

– CNN contributor and blogger Erick Erickson complained that the words “muslim” and “Islam” are “not mentioned” enough in stories about Shahzad. He wrote, “It really is pathetic that you’re more likely to see the words “racist” and “Republican” together in the newspaper these days than “terrorism” and “Islam.” [5/4/2010]

– Hate radio host Neal Boortz tweeted, “OMG! The Times Square Bomber is a Muslim! Shocker! Who would have believed it?” [5/4/2010]

– The cover of today’s Washington Post-published Express features a black-and-white photo of Shahzad with the sensationalist headline “MADE IN PAKISTAN” [5/5/2010]

Yet one fact being ignored in the American media’s sensationalist narrative about the failed bombing is that the man who was responsible for police finding the bomb was Muslim. The UK’s Times Online reports that Aliou Niasse, a Senagalese Muslim immigrant who works as a photograph vendor on Times Square, was the first to bring the smoking car to the police’s attention:

Aliou Niasse, a street vendor selling framed photographs of New York, said that he was the first to spot the car containing the bomb, which pulled up right in front of his cart on the corner of 45th street and Broadway next to the Marriott hotel.

“I didn’t see the car pull up or notice the driver because I was busy with customers. But when I looked up I saw that smoke appeared to be coming from the car. This would have been around 6.30pm.”

“I thought I should call 911, but my English is not very good and I had no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn’t call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer near by,” said Mr Niasse, who is originally from Senegal and who has been a vendor in Times Square for about eight years.

As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights notes, “South Asian, and Muslim communities may yield useful information to those fighting terrorism. Arabs and Arab Americans also offer the government an important source of Arabic speakers and translators. The singling out of Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, and Sikhs for investigation regardless of whether any credible evidence links them to terrorism will simply alienate these individuals and compromise the anti-terrorism effort.”

Reflecting on Niasse’s good samaritanism Muslim-American author Sumbul Ali-Karamali writes, “It’s somewhat consoling to know that the man who first noticed the smoking Nissan Pathfinder and sought help is also Muslim, a Senegalese immigrant. … I grew up Muslim in this country, with Muslim friends and non-Muslim friends, and there was very little difference between the two groups. We were all American.”

Some Of My Best Friends Are Pakistanis

As I write this, the news that the man arrested for trying to blow up Times Square is a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin has only begun to sink in. What is this going to mean for other U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin – and for me, as their friend?

This article’s headline is an ironic allusion to something people used to say to disavow bigotry: “Some of my best friends are Jews.” It’s also a straight statement of fact: some of my best friends are Pakistanis. And I want the world to know that, especially in these times and at this moment, because I think it’s very important for us to remember that not all U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin blow stuff up.

Assuming we’re being told the truth about 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad of Bridgeport, Connecticut, it might be fair to ask: With friends like these, who needs enemies? But it’s precisely because of the horrific misguidedness of a dangerous few that we need to stay calm and remind ourselves and each other that we’re all in this together. I said exactly this, in fact, on Sunday when I spoke in support of The Citizens Foundation at the South Asian American Arts Festival put on by Zanbeel Art at the Santa Monica Art Studios. I’ll say it again tonight, when I speak to the Pakistani Students Association at UC-San Diego.

The Citizens Foundation is one of several well-run nonprofits supported by the largely very suburban and middle-class Pakistani-American community that are quietly doing the most urgently necessary work: providing education, and thereby hope and self-respect, to the burgeoning young generation of the Pakistani poor. Too quietly: groups like TCF-USA must start tooting their own horns more assertively to the American public. I would go so far as to say that countering the impression of Pakistanis conveyed by the likes of Faisal Shahzad is not only an opportunity for the Pakistani-American community, but an obligation.

I’m not saying that Pakistani Americans have to prove that they’re not terrorists. The rest of us must remember that there is no such thing as collective guilt, and that the presumption of innocence is a basic American principle. I am saying that the existing institutions of Pakistani America need to move – now – beyond inviting each other to the existing endless round of charity fundraisers, worthy and useful as those are. Pakistani Americans are a remarkably talented and resourceful community who pay a lot of money to the U.S. Treasury in taxes and contribute very substantially to American society as physicians, engineers, teachers and business people. For better or worse, Americans listen to people who insist on being heard, and if you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else is gonna toot it for you.

My writing and public speaking are all about emphasizing to Americans the humanity of Pakistanis, their experience of and views on contemporary history, the complexity of their political and geographical situation, and the enjoyable and interesting apects of my own experience of Pakistan, dating back to 1995. As my friend Todd Shea likes to say, Americans hear 2% of Pakistan’s story 98% of the time. I feel very fortunate to have experienced Pakistan directly at a relatively innocent time both in history and in my own life, before the country’s name became a dirty word in the West. We can’t go back to that time, but we can remember it – and we can and should take a deep breath, reach out to each other as allies, and work together to do what needs to be done.

What needs to be done? Young Pakistanis need to be given hope and self-respect by way of education and jobs. This is already being done by The Citizens Foundation, by Developments in Literacy – at whose San Diego fundraiser I’ll be speaking this Saturday, May 8 – by the Human Development Foundation, by Pakistani pop star Shehzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust, and famously by Greg Mortenson.

But why is Greg Mortenson’s the only one of these efforts that’s well known? Part of the answer, of course, is that he’s white: church ladies and Oprah watchers can relate to him as a virtual nephew or brother-in-law. This is fine. But we need to get beyond the toxic supposition that America is primarily a “white” and/or Christian country. It’s not, anymore, and that’s a good thing.

So the other thing that needs to be done is that the Pakistani community needs to ratchet up both its involvement in American society and politics and its visibility. Call up your local schools and churches, invite your neighbors to your home, all that good stuff, and by all means enlist me, Todd Shea, and Greg Mortenson as envoys. But also support Pakistani-American and other Muslim candidates for public office; insist on meetings with existing officeholders, not only but especially those you consider hostile to Muslims or Pakistan; and support and expand the lobbying work of groups like the Pakistani American Leadership Center and the Council of Pakistan American Affairs. Get in the American public’s face, as fellow Americans, and help us all begin having a more honest conversation about Pakistan, America, terrorism, and where our countries and world are headed.

And I ask two things of my fellow non-Pakistani Americans: Go to the trouble of educating yourselves about Pakistan – my books and inviting me to speak are, indeed, good places to start. And, when you see pictures of Faisal Shahzad over the coming days, keep in mind that, except for the buzz cut, Tim McVeigh looked a lot like me.

Written By Pakistanis for Peace group member ETHAN CASEY who is the author of the travel books Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004) and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010).
They are available online at and, and he can be emailed at

Arizona Becomes The Racial Profiling State

Afghanistan Is Feel-Good Element in Twenty20

By Huw Richards for The New York Times

Cricketing contrast rarely comes more vividly than it will Saturday when India plays Afghanistan on day two of the World Twenty20 tournament on the West Indian island of St. Lucia.

India is cricket’s economic giant, generating around three quarters of its income. Its players count both their fans and their personal fortunes in millions. They have just been playing in the India Premier League, the hugely lucrative competition that has brought unprecedented riches — accompanied by allegations of corruption — into the game.

Afghanistan is the tournament newcomer, taking its first steps on the game’s biggest stages. It is cricket’s almost-too-good-to-be-true story.

A team from an impoverished and war-torn nation with no real cricket history has risen with incredible speed. That this success is a bizarre byproduct of those wider sufferings, with Afghans learning the game in refugee camps in Pakistan, only adds to the joyous unlikelihood of the whole story.

Saturday will be Afghanistan’s first competitive meeting with any of cricket’s established giants. Its players bring with them not only the fearlessness of youth — none admits to being older than 26 — but whose life experiences put mere sporting disappointment in context.

As Graeme Smith, captain of South Africa, the third team in the same initial pool, said when told that an Afghan batsman had declared himself unafraid of paceman Dale Steyn: “I wouldn’t be either, if I had grown up in a war zone.”

Afghanistan, a fifth-division team in the International Cricket Council’s league system only two years ago, should, logically, have finally reached the limit of its abilities. Yet that has been said of it at most stages in its rise. India will be wary. It remembers its elimination by Bangladesh in the 2007 World Cup, the last major tournament played in the West Indies. Lose to the Afghans and it will be tough for India to find a way back — it plays its second pool match only 24 hours later against South Africa, traditionally a fast starter in big tournaments.

There is nothing like an early shock to animate a championship. Ireland, the other qualifier from outside the 10 test-playing nations, will hope to provide one before Afghanistan even takes the field, when it plays host West Indies on Friday.

The West Indians will be seeking success on and off the field. It needs the 12-team, 27 match, 17 day tournament — the final is May 16 in Barbados — to be everything the 2007 World Cup was not. Then, overpriced tickets and heavy-handed crowd control seemed expressly designed to eliminate the distinctive ambience of Caribbean cricket.

It also needs its team to play with the vibrant spirit shown by Trinidad and Tobago in the Champions League competition for regional and national title-holders. Trinidad contributes four men to its 15-strong squad including the volcanic hitter Keiron Pollard.

In the tournament opener, Sri Lanka, runner-up in the 2009 World Twenty20, takes on New Zealand. The Sri Lankans field a 40-year-old member of Parliament, Sanath Jayasuriya, and a clutch of unorthodox but highly effective bowlers.

Predicting Twenty20 matches is notoriously tough. The short length of matches — only 20 six-ball overs apiece — and the limited number of international contests make for the unexpected.

There are, though, indications that Australia — which has won the World Cup, in which teams have innings of 50 overs, three times in a row — is coming to terms with the shorter format. It has won four of its last five official matches, drawing the other. Its teams dominated the Champions League. Paceman Doug Bollinger has emerged as a real force. On the other hand, it lost its warm-up contest against Zimbabwe.

This is the third Twenty20 World Cup. Pakistan won last year and was the runner-up in 2007. It comfortably has the best winning percentage in this format.

Pakistan should, by logic, be a prohibitive favorite. Logic, though, is in short supply in Pakistan. Several of its winning team, including inspirational captain Younis Khan, have since been thrown off the team following internal disputes.

Afghanistan owes much of its aggressive playing style to examples set by Pakistan. It must be hoped it will take its administrative models from elsewhere.

The pool stages might see Bangladesh trouble Pakistan’s traditionally slow starters. Two weeks beyond that, it would be no surprise to see Australia and Sri Lanka reprise their roles as finalists in 2007 World Cup in the 50-over format.

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