• PLEASANT SURPRISE: Fred Weir says he was encouraged by his recent visit to Tatarstan, a Muslim region of Russia. "Despite all that's gone wrong in Russia in the past 10 years, this is one major story that seems to have gone right," Fred says. "A decade ago there was a serious threat that Tatarstan was going to declare independence from Russia and descend into a secessionist war like Chechnya. But, despite some differences in views, such as the way Russians have depicted Tatar history (page 9) the Tatars have been able to find a modus vivendi with Moscow. Kazan, the Tatar capital, is prosperous, and people are optimistic."
• ACCESS DENIED: After several attempts by the Monitor's Scott Baldauf to meet active Hizb-i Islami members in Pakistan (page 7), it soon became clear they didn't want to meet any Americans, reporters or otherwise. "One Hizb commander agreed to meet us, but then called off the meeting due to a 'death in the family.' Another told us he couldn't meet us in a public place, which was something I insisted on as a precaution against kidnap," says Scott. "For most reporters, the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl is still a very present memory. I can only guess that the Islamic radicals are taking their own precautions, and may assume that any US reporter may actually be a spy." Some of the interviews were ultimately done by Owais Tohid, a Pakistani, who didn't run into the same roadblocks when he was alone.
• WHICH WAR? While reporting on Colombia's new stay-at-home soldiers (page 8), reporter Rachel Van Dongen kept getting the same query from officers: "How's the war going?"
"Which war?" replied Rachel, somewhat surprised by the question."There's a lot of curiosity about the Iraq war here. President Uribe was the first Latin American leader to support the US position."
David Clark Scott