Good Reads: Protests in Syria, Soviets in Kabul, US-Pakistan breakup

Al Jazeera spends seven weeks with both sides of the protests in Syria; the Guardian's reporter unpacks a 1981 trip to Afghanistan, and Pakistanis are losing that loving feeling with the US.

Demonstrators march through the streets in Homs, Syria, Tuesday.

• Good Reads highlights the best reporting and analysis available on the top international stories of the day – and other key topics you shouldn't miss.

People like to get their news for free these days, which is reasonable enough. Information about the world feels as if it should be a right, like oxygen or clean drinking water. But today's good reads, which takes us to and explains the situations in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan can't help but bring to my mind this question: How long can newspapers continue to provide great news for free?

This kind of reporting costs money. Reporters eat food, they stay in hotels, they use cell or satellite phones in foreign countries, they take taxi rides and planes into dangerous places and then take them home again. Oh, and reporters like to get paid for the stories they write – at least a little something. You’d be shocked at how little money many reporters are willing to take for this service, even after facing a hail of gunfire or tear gas.

Good reporting is more than mere adrenalin, of course. The ability to make sense of an exciting event – a bomb blast in Kabul, a protest in Syria, an election in Zambia, or a famine in Somalia – is the reason reporters (should) make the big bucks.

Nir Rosen, a special correspondent for Al Jazeera’s English service, does a stand-out job this week making sense of his time throughout the past seven weeks on both sides of the ongoing Syrian protests. Mr. Rosen finds that patience is running thin on both sides. A protest movement that started out with fearless nonviolent confrontation of the Bashar al-Assad regime is increasingly using violent attacks, and the government, resorting to increasingly harsh treatment of protestors, is finding that just hasn’t stopped the opposition.

Explaining the new violence in Syria, Mr. Rosen concludes, in this, the second of a series of stories from Syria:

Opposition members feel they have been pushed to violence by a brutal regime that shows itself incapable of or unwilling to fulfill its promises of reform. However, this level of opposition violence cannot overthrow the regime. It does allow the regime to justify its narrative of fighting armed groups. In addition, it allows foreign backers of the regime, such as Russia, to justify their intransigent support for it.

...Meanwhile in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele has recently written a book of his own reporting experiences from the early days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and he helpfully destroys a few myths we may have about wars in Afghanistan. In an excerpt of his book, reprinted today, he describes an explosion that may have been a suicide bomb, as early as 1981.

Perhaps the biggest myth of the Afghan war is that the Afghan mujahideen had defeated the Soviet Army and forced them to retreat, Mr. Steele writes.

The reality is the Afghan mujahideen did not defeat the Soviets on the battlefield. They won some important encounters, notably in the Panjshir valley, but lost others. In sum, neither side defeated the other. The Soviets could have remained in Afghanistan for several more years but they decided to leave when Gorbachev calculated that the war had become a stalemate and was no longer worth the high price in men, money and international prestige.

As the Monitor reported this week, angry comments from Adm. Mike Mullen, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have gathered force, and a growing number of US politicians are calling for confrontation with its main frontline ally in the war on terror: Pakistan. But The Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung say that even senior officials in the Obama administration and in the US diplomatic corps believe that Mullen’s statements went too far.

“The Pakistani government has been dealing with Haqqani for a long time and still sees strategic value in guiding Haqqani and using them for their purposes,” the Pentagon official said. But “it’s not in their interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a [US] compound would do.”

Also in The Washington Post, Karen Bruillard writes that it’s the Pakistanis themselves who are on the front lines of the war against groups like the Haqqani network, and many Pakistanis blame the US for the violence occurring inside their borders.

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