Can Afghan military turn the tide in Taliban fight?

  • 25 April 2017
  • From the section Asia
US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrives by helicopter at Resolute Support headquarters in the Afghan capital Kabul on 24 April 2017 Image copyright AFP
Image caption James Mattis flew in as Afghanistan's two top military leaders stood down

US Defence Secretary James Mattis was filmed beside an open cargo door as he flew in to Kabul on Monday. It was a glamorous image, but he could scarcely have flown into the country on a less auspicious day.

In the morning both Defence Minister Abudullah Habibi and the Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shahim had handed in their resignations in the wake of the Taliban attack on an army base outside Mazar-e Sharif on Friday. It was the deadliest single attack on a military installation in the entire 16-year history of the Afghan conflict.

When I was shown around the base the message was that although mistakes were made, the Taliban subterfuge had been particularly thorough.

The Taliban fighters arrived in Ford Ranger trucks painted in a perfect facsimile of Afghan army vehicles. They had full uniforms and plausible paperwork; one of the team was disguised as a casualty complete with a bloodied bandage around his head and an IV drip in his arm.

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Media caption'The walls are pocked with gunshot fire' - Justin Rowlatt visits the site of the attack in Mazar-e Sharif

But even this elaborate ruse should not have resulted in the carnage that ensued. The 10 Taliban attackers are believed to have killed around 170 Afghan soldiers. It was a major blow to morale in the military, but also in the country at large.

Fighting season

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The election where no-one came to vote

  • 16 April 2017
  • From the section India
Kashmiri protestors clash with Indian security forces near a polling station in Srinagar on April 9, 2017. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Protesters have been attacking polling centres in Indian-administered Kashmir

Eight people died and more than 100 were injured in Indian-administered Kashmir in a highly contentious by-election over the weekend. Separatist leaders called for voters to boycott the polls and protestors attacked more than 150 polling centres.

On Thursday India attempted to re-run the disrupted ballots. There was massive security in place.

Read full article The election where no-one came to vote

Trafficked babies, black money and India's values

  • 9 December 2016
  • From the section India
People walk past replica prints of the demonitised 500 and 1000 rupee notes as part of a street art exhibition in Mumbai Image copyright INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

We all know that the price of something doesn't always indicate its true value, but prices can still be very revealing.

Two very different sets of prices demonstrate that in India this week.

Read full article Trafficked babies, black money and India's values

IR8: The miracle rice which saved millions of lives

  • 1 December 2016
  • From the section India
Mr Subba Rao harvesting the first IR8 harvest Image copyright IRRI
Image caption Mr Subba Rao harvesting the first IR8 harvest

Last week I received a very unusual invitation indeed. It was to a 50th birthday party in a swanky Delhi hotel, but the party was for a plant: a strain of rice known only by its initials, IR8.

A celebration for an angry rice variety; who could refuse?

Read full article IR8: The miracle rice which saved millions of lives

Modi's money medicine: Kill or cure?

  • 22 November 2016
  • From the section India
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi Image copyright Getty Images

This week will be decisive for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's audacious experiment in tackling tax evasion and corruption in India.

Two weeks ago he gave the world's seventh biggest economy four hours notice that he was going to cancel 86% of its cash - $220bn (£176bn) in total.

Read full article Modi's money medicine: Kill or cure?

Gates's advice for the world's most cash-strapped nation

  • 18 November 2016
  • From the section Asia
Bill Gates was interviewed by the BBC's Justin Rowlatt Image copyright Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,

The world's richest man is visiting the world's most cash-strapped nation.

In an address to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet on Wednesday, Bill Gates said: "The bold move to demonetise high value denominations…is an important step to move away from a shadow economy to an even more transparent economy."

Read full article Gates's advice for the world's most cash-strapped nation

Why India wiped out 86% of its cash overnight

  • 14 November 2016
  • From the section India
An Indian resident holds 500 and 1000 Rupee notes Image copyright PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

India is in the middle of an extraordinary economic experiment.

On 8 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave only four hours' notice that virtually all the cash in the world's seventh-largest economy would be effectively worthless.

Read full article Why India wiped out 86% of its cash overnight

Indian tea workers' conditions remain very poor

  • 12 November 2016
  • From the section India
A woman picks tea outside Siliguri, in West Bengal Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The traditional image of tea workers can mask the very difficult conditions some face

If you are drinking tea, I suggest you put down the cup right now because I've got bad news for you.

You can forget those pretty pictures of happy women in saris on rolling green hillsides that you see on some tea packets. That is not the reality for most tea workers.

Read full article Indian tea workers' conditions remain very poor

Will India dash UK trade deal hopes?

  • 5 November 2016
  • From the section India
3D mapping projections display the Indian tricolor national flag on the India Gate Image copyright MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday Theresa May will land in smoggy Delhi with a large entourage of diplomats, advisers, business people and press in tow.

This is an important visit. It is the new British prime minister's first bilateral meeting outside Europe, the first step in her mission to "forge a new global role for the UK".

Read full article Will India dash UK trade deal hopes?

India's Diwali fireworks: Nazis and fighting elephants

  • 31 October 2016
  • From the section India
Picture shows Coronation Nazi Green box Image copyright Justin Rowlatt/BBC
Image caption The Green Nazi - "a psychedelic, pop-art nightmare"

Diwali is famous as the festival of lights, but it is also a festival of fireworks.

Every evening the streets ring with explosions and there is a thrilling whiff of sulphur in the smoggy air.

Read full article India's Diwali fireworks: Nazis and fighting elephants