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tv   Worldfocus  PBS  August 18, 2009 12:00am-12:30am EDT

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tonight on "worldfocus" -- getting out the vote. as afghanistan prepares for national elections, we look at the challenges facing the process -- taliban threats, remote voting stations, plus just teaching people how to vote. meanwhile, u.s. and nato troops continue to battle with the taliban. tonight, an up close look at the fighting. in fact, for the british tv crew may be a bit too close. and as washington welcomes egyptian president hosni mubarak, we look at his popularity back home. after 28-years as their leader, egyptians have lots to say and much of it isn't good. from the world's leading reporters and analysts, here is what's happening from around the world. this is "worldfocus." made possible in part by the following funders --
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>> good evening. in savidge. this is the start of a critical week in afghanistan, where some 60,000 american troops and their nato allies are trying to maintain order as national elections approach. the difficulty of that task was underscored during the weekend when a suicide car bomber evaded police and detonated his explosives right outside nato headquarters in the capital kabul. seven people were killed and dozens wounded. the united states believes the elections will legitimize the government, now led by a staunch u.s. ally, hamid karzai, who is widely expected to be re-elected to another term. but the taliban is doing all it can to disrupt the vote. tonight, with the help of our partners from around the globe, we are going to look in great depth at the upcoming vote, and at that perilous security situation in that country. all this is our lead focus tonight. we begin with this report from >> reporter: it's a huge logistical effort, delivering election materials to polling stations in remote mountainous
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regions. 3,000 donkeys have been drafted into help. officials have also been busy instructing first-time voters on how to cast their baltots. >> translator: if the government provides enough security, we'll be happy to go and vote. >> reporter: the taliban have warned that anyone who votes will have a finger cut off. the one that was inked at the polling station to prevent election fraud. in the southern province of helmand, nato and u.s. forces have been involved in heavy fighting with taliban insurgents just days ahead of the elections. many residents doubt it will be safe enough to vote. but u.s. forces and the government are determined to ensure polling stations are >> there will be an election here and it may be modest but you know so far as i'm
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concerned, if one person comes out to vote, then that's a success. >> reporter: afghan and international election observers say there's little chance the elections will be truly free and fair. the precarious security situation means it will be impossible to have observers at every polling station. >> many americans might not realize is that afghanistan's actually a collection of many ethnic groups. the two biggest being the pashtuns and the tajiks. not surprisingly, in afghanistan, as in many places around the world, many people are expected to vote along ethnic lines. and as thursday's election approaches, the leading candidates are doing all they can to turn out their vote with the help of tribal elders. we wanted to go into greater detail about this important and underreported aspect of the election. so we chose this report from zeina khodr of al jazeera english. >> reporter: it's the tribes who hold sway in the pashtun tribal belt. even on the voter's choice. tribal elders who have the last
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choice their community makes and that's why the ahmed wali karzai, the brother and campaign manager of president hamid karzai in the south has been courting tribal elders without winning them over, no contender stands a chance. >> pashtun votes are extremely important because pashtuns are the majority in afghanistan. i don't think that without the pashtun votes, no one can win. >> reporter: kandahar is the main population center in southern afghanistan. the pashtun heartland. it is not only the electoral base and hometown of president karzai but also the support base of the taliban. there is one challenger whose name is not on this ballot paper, the taliban. and they have vowed to disrupt the elections. if they do, there will be a low voter turnout, which means that it will be difficult for any candidate to secure the 50% of votes needed to avoid a runoff. dr. abdullah abdullah is
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karzai's main challenger, son of a pashtun father but still seen by many here as someone who is lacking what is at the heart of the pashtun vote, the tribal allegiance. >> translator: we'll vote for the person who is from our land and works for our dignity. we will vote for karzai. >> reporter: dr. abdullah, who has campaigned in kandahar, is seen as close to the tajik community because of links with the northern alliance. the group that helped topple the taliban in 2001. >> translator: i will vote for hamid karzai. we will not vote for abdullah abdullah. he speaks the language of the tajiks. >> reporter: the tribal elders are also involved in different negotiations here trying to convince the taliban that disrupting elections would not be in the interest of the people, the pashtuns in particular. because for the pashtuns, the question doesn't seem to be for whom to vote for, but whether or not they will cast their vote at all.
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al jazeera, kandahar. joining us to help us with more insight on thursday's presidential election in afghanistan, we are joined again by alex thi er, the director of the future of afghanistan project at the united states institute of peace and that's based in washington, d.c. welcome back. >> pleasure to be here. >> there were fresh reports today about efforts by the taliban to intimidate afghans into not voting. can afghanistan hold a broad based elections that will be viewed as legitimate under these conditions? >> well, it's very difficult. the security situation in afghanistan, particularly in the south, is fraught. there is combat going on right now between afghan and international forces between the taliban. the taliban are making threats directly to people if they vote. and so people simply getting out to the polls is a challenge. some 1,200 polling stations out of 7,000 in afghanistan were declared too dangerous just a
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few weeks ago and were moved or closed. so security could depress the outcome of this election that in a way that could challenge its legitimacy. >> and regardless of who wins, will the new president really be able to wield real authority throughout the country or will many areas just remain beyond the new control of the new government? >> well, i think those things are intricately related. i think that the next president of afghanistan, whether it's hamid karzai or one of his challengers, is going to have a new mandate to take afghanistan in a direction away from the problems that it has been facing over the last four or five year insurgency. certainly the obama administration is also trying to turn over a new leaf. i think there are two keys to an improved strategy. the first is obviously increased security. and that's not only about killing insurgents but also about making the afghan population feel more secure. and it's about justice.
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it's about rooting out the problems of corruption that have turned many afghans away from the government. >> no matter who wins, is it likely to change the nature and the duration of the american mission there? >> well, i do think that the outcome of this election could have a serious impact on the american engagement in afghanistan. ultimately, leadership from the top is going to be necessary from the afghan side to clearly turn things around and whether it's a question of political reconciliation with the taliban, improving the record of afghan security forces, rooting out corruption, dealing with the narcotics problem, these are things that ultimately require afghan leadership, and without strong afghan leadership, the united states can't deal with these problems. and so i do think that the outcome of the election and the perception that this is a legitimate election can seriously impact the potential for u.s. success in afghanistan.
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>> alex thier, thank you for joining us tonight. >> my pleasure. as we've said, the elections are taking place at a time when the situation in afghanistan about as insecure as ever. there was not only that bombing at nato headquarters but as we've been reporting, casualty counts are soaring as americans and british forces go on the offensive against the taliban. our next report comes from kunar province in the eastern part of afghanistan. we chose it because it will offer you a rare glimpse of the violence u.s. soldiers encounter virtually every day during this mostly invisible war. itn's nick paton walsh has our story. >> reporter: 2:00 a.m. en route to one of america's most besieged outposted. the pilots won't land in this valley except on the darkest of nights when they're escorted by gunships. the taliban often lie and wait in the darkness of this remote valley.
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the gunships fire a missile into the hillside, a warning shot. outpost is t further reach of america power surrounded by mountains here in the pakistani border. a landing so difficult the pilots are worried that their rotor blades could clip the hillside. this is the only way in or out of a tiny piece of land. america feels it has to hold on to but isn't sure why. and while the world's only superpower has found itself trapped. the hills all around offer beauty and also constant deadly attacks. >> we're surrounded in a bowl. we're constantly urn observation. >> reporter: captain porter leads a few dozen men pinned down among the sandbags. they don't have much contact
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with the locals apart from when they shoot at their base. >> we had over 35 contacts with the enemy since we've been here just under three months. so keeping us on our toes. >> reporter: why are you here? >> my boss told me to come here. >> reporter: an afghan army patrol returns to base from the hills. they're accompanied by soldiers who were training them as part of nato. life here is a waiting game, though. and then the very worst happens. one moment it's a -- morning. the next it's -- fell onto our cameraman. the bullet so close the fragment hit his leg. there's a rush cover. we don't know where to run or which hill these shots are coming from. [ gunfire ]
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>> reporter: the afghan soldiers return fire blindly over the hills but the americans inside the base wait, looking for the insurgents. soon they see it. a muddle flash. [ gunfire ] this is how the war goes here. a few shells from the taliban met with overwhelming american firepower. >> what this is what battle agonizing is about. now under heavy attack. appears to have gone on for about 30 minutes or so. no idea when it is going to stop. >> that was nick paton walsh of itn. another aspect of the war in
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afghanistan often overlooked in this country is the british role. britain has the second largest contingent of troops there. 9,000 of them. and as they've gone on the offensive, the number of their dead and wounded is increasing as well. itn's andrew thomas has that part of the story. >> reporter: the 200th british soldier to die from wounds sustained in afghanistan, the milestone no one wanted to pass. private richard hunt blowed up in a roadside bomb last thursday. died of his injuries and burning them on saturday. also released a picture of the first of four soldiers who were killed while on foot patrol on saturday. sergeant simon valentine a father of two who also served in iraq. comparatively lucky, these soldiers are what described as a halfway house between hospital and home. the country's first army recovery center. soldiers here in the final stage of rehabilitation before they
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head home or even return to the theater of war. >> i would really like to go back into service again. where the battalions to afghanistan next april. and i would like to deploy with them. but at this moment in time, i'm just, you know, i don't know what's going to happen to be honest. i've got a lot more on my plate. >> reporter: this center, its opening attended by the outgoing head of the army and others planned elsewhere will be in strong demand. figures this morning showing a dramatic rise in serious injuries among soldiers in afghanistan. from eight in may and 13 in june to 31 in july. so far this year, 76 with 236 injured in action in total. one more than for the whole of 2008. overall since the start of military action in afghanistan, 245 have been seriously wounded in action.
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790 wounded in all. >> these centers are really important. they're need urgently and the next one will be rolling out. and then looking at others as of when we can on the experience of this center and the center. >> reporter: the increase for fighting in afghanistan is bourne out too by the number of deaths. in 2006, there were 39. there were 42 in 2007. 51 in 2008. so far this year, they've already been 66. the last six weeks have been particularly brutal with more than half of this year's deaths. 13 already dead this month including five over the weekend. 22 were killed in july. the glimmer of hope, the british commander in afghanistan saying that in parts of helmand province, control could be handed over to afghan forces immediately. perhaps then the rates of british deaths and injuries could fall from its current
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peak. >> that was andrew thomas of itn. on another related item we wanted to call your attention to tonight all this week we are partnering with the website to find quality reporting about afghanistan. help us pick the best news coverage about this important story by going to and then clicking on the newshunt button. >> the commanding general of american forces in iraq, ray ordieno, says that al qaeda is exploiting ethnic tensions in the north of that country, and he's proposing that some of the 132,000 american troops still there be redeployed to end a recent surge of bombings. just last week, dozens of people were killed in a double truck bombing near the city of mosul. many of the dead and wounded had been sleeping on their roofs because of the summer heat. concerns about global terrorism are also front and center during high-level talks going on this week in yemen. a delegation of four u.s. senators, including john mccain, are in that country for meetings
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with the yemeni president ali abdullah saleh. you'll recall that yemen is the ancestral home of osama bin laden and it was the site of the bombing nine years ago of the "uss cole" in the gulf of aden. 17 american sailors were killed in that bomb blast. still one more note about terrorism tonight. india's prime minister says that he has "credible information" that militant groups in pakistan are planning new attacks on his country. last november, 166 people were killed in mumbai in an operation apparently conceived and organized in pakistan. the talk of india today was the detention over the weekend by customs officials at newark airport of one of india's most famous actors, shah rukh khan. khan is a muslim and his name came up on a computer alert list. many indians like gayatri goswami of mumbai expressed outrage. she writes -- "the detention was shameful. the u.s. should apologize. they better."
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but others were a bit more understanding. one indian man implored his countrymen. "wake up, india. wake up. it's time for tight security. i would appreciate it if india takes similar actions against each and every person who enters and exits india." and another sign tonight that the global recession seems to be ending, at least the worst of it. japan, the world's second largest economy announced today that its economy grew at an annual rate of 3.7% in the second quarter. helped along by an increase in exports to china. you'll recall that the economies of germany and france also rebounded during the last quarter. despite all of this though, stock markets fell sharply around the world today. and now to the middle east and egypt. president hosni mubarak is in washington for high-level talks with obama administration officials. and america has a lot riding on mubarak.
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the united states gives some $2 billion a year to egypt, which remains one of our most reliable arab allies. but egypt's future is murky. mubarak is now 81 years old and, by some accounts, is in failing health and no successor has been named. what does it all mean, especially at a time when there is some level of discontent within egypt? to help make sense of it all, we turn to abc australia's middle east correspondent ben knight. >> reporter: in the heart of cairo, murad sabri mustafa is coming home to the apartment he's preparing to leave. he's off to libya, which now offers him better prospects than the country he was born in. >> the income here is very low, to have - to save from it and to have a good life. >> reporter: there are many like him in egyptass, and they're tired of watching their country stagnate. >> we need change. i saw a lot of egyptians in other countries. they are succeed. >> reporter: but change is something egyptians don't often see.
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for 28 years hosni mubarak has been the country's president. >> most egypans have only known one president, and i think they have come to see that egypt has not developed economically over this period like many other countries have and has certainly not developed politically. egypt is no more democratic today than it was when president mubarak came to power in 1981. >> reporter: that was when anwar sadat was assassinated by muslim extremists. hosni mubarak had to act to stop an islamic uprising in the country. he did, and has done so ever since. he's also kept up the country's treaty with israel, all of which has made egypt a crucial ally of the united states in the region, which provides it with around $2 billion a year in economic and military aid. but egypt's lack of democracy makes for an uncomfortable relationship. the main opposition party, the muslim brotherhood, is banned, many of its leaders have been jailed and there have been allegations of electoral fraud.
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among the people, the regime of hosni mubarak is far from popular, but it's apparently unshakeable. in the past, the president has said he'll die in the job, but more recently, there have been hints the 81-year-old may step down at the next election. as yet, he's given no indication of who, after 28 years of absolute rule, should follow him as president. but there are many in this country that believe his son gamal will get the job. >> reporter: the other candidate most often mentioned is this man, omar suleiman, the head of egypt's foreign intelligence service. he has vast experience. this is the great pyramid of khufu, who was the pharaoh of egypt for re than 20 years. but that's not as long a hosni mubarak has been in charge. in fact, they've only been a handful of egyptian rulers who've lasted longer. khufu left as his legacy one of the seven wonders of the world. hosni mubarak's will be far less
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impressive. >> he will be criticized because he didn't really make the big transformation to democracy. during his reign, basically all of the countries -- some of the countries of south america. other countries have done -- have done better than egypt. and egypt should be one of these countries. >> reporter: it will take more than a change of president to make that to happen. ben knight, "lateline." >> joining us to discuss u.s./egyptian relations and issues that are likely to be on the agenda when president mubarak meets with president obama tomorrow is salameh nematt he is a foreign affairs columnist for the internet news site the daily beast and joins us from washington. welcome. >> thank you. >> as the obama administration tries to come up with some sort of middle east deal, what role does it envision for president mubarak? >> well, the obama administration would like to see president obama to take steps to
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normalize relations with israel. the obama administration would like to see more warming up of relations of kind of exchanges of visits. some kind of concessions, if you like, to israel, such as allowing flyovers of airplanes, israeli airplanes over egyptian airspace, things like that, in order to create a more kind of positive atmosphere that would help launch the peace process. on the other hand, the egyptians insist that israel should freeze all settlement activity in the palestinian occupied territories er to facilitate such moves. >> egypt is easily the most populist country in that region with 83 million people, but is it is as influential as it used to be? >> it's probably as influential as it used to be. it is a leading member of the arab league.
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and it does set the tone, the political tone, if you like, for the arab side in terms of you know if egypt goes towards normalization of relations with israel, other countries are likely to be encouraged to do so. the problem is that the arab side, the palestinian side, is divided between the moderate palestinian authority on the west bank and the hardline hamas islamic movement in gaza sitting on the israeli side. the israelis are divided between those who want to accept the basis for negotiations with -- with the palestinian side who are willing to hold settlements, fight territories and the hardliners who do not want that so on both sides are there problems. the obama administration's trying to reach some kind of common ground that would move or relaunch the peace process. >> president obama has been criticized by some who say his administration's been too quick to embrace what they consider mubarak's authoritarian regime.
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does that cut his credibility in the region? >> i think it's probably showing the obama administration's pragmatism in dealing with this issue. on the one hand it is calling -- it is still upholding principles of freedom, democracy and human rights, but it's not making a big issue out of these matters which makes it easier for the mubarak government. at the same time, there is this criticism that perhaps the current administration is not as serious about spreading democracy in that part of the world and that of course hurts its credibility to some extent. >> salameh nematt, thank you for joining us tonight. >> you're welcome. and this programming note. charlie rose has an exclusive interview with hosni mubarak. check your local listings. we want to end tonight on a positive note, so for that we take you to thailand, where a 48-year-old elephant has been fitted with a permanent
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artificial limb. the animal lost her foot and part of her leg when she stepped on a land mine ten years ago near the border with myanmar. her first steps were a little tentative. but as the ap tells it, within ten minutes, she grabbed some dust with her truck and, it is said, jubilantly sprayed it in the air. and that's "worldfocus" for a monday night. remember to visit our website at we welcome your comments. i've martin savidge in new york. we'll look for you again tomorrow. good night. >> "worldfocus" was made possible in part by the following funders -- >> "worldfocus" was made possible in part by the -- captions by vitac --
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