Two Christian aid groups suspended in Afghanistan

The Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Church World Service (CWS), two aid organizations operating in Afghanistan, were suspended yesterday from carrying out relief projects in the country. The damning transgression? An offending telephone book listing.

Controversy over the operations of the two groups first ignited when Noorin TV, a broadcasting company in Afghanistan, aired footage of baptisms and Christian prayer meetings in the country. Noorin sought to link the clips to NCA and CWS, but later conceded they had no conclusive evidence that either organization is involved in missionary activity. The company's director, Muhammed Arif Noori, admitted he was prompted to raise the alarm when skimming a directory of non-government organizations working in Afghanistan: the word "Church" in the names of both groups caught his eye and wound up inspiring his attack.

In spite of Noorin's dubious fact-finding, the government responded by suspending both groups-an action they say is fully backed by the law: in Afghanistan, proselytizing isn't merely frowned upon. It's downright illegal. The country's Constitution bans converting from Islam, or even just trying to get someone else to convert. Both NCA and CWS deny taking part in any evangelical activity. (Indeed, even Mohammed Sediq Amarkhiel, spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Economy, acknowledged both groups are known for "doing a good job.") The NCA general secretary expressed hope for a "speedy and positive solution" to the fall-out, but at least for now, his organization-and its 8 million dollar budget for Afghanistan alone-will have to sit on the sidelines.



Is Hatoyama about to get the axe?

It's hard to believe that less than a year ago, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama came to power riding one of the largest political mandates the country has ever seen. In an election upset last summer that threw out the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan secured 300 out of 480 seats in parliament. The LDP struggled to net even 120 seats — arguably the worst defeat ever for the party that had enjoyed almost 50 years of unbroken rule. It was a lopsided contest largely viewed as a referendum on the government of sitting prime minister Taro Aso, whose approval ratings had fallen to about 20 percent ahead of the August 2009 election.

Today, it looks as though Hatoyama himself may soon suffer a similar fate. As many as 75 percent of Japanese voters disapprove of Hatoyama's government, and six in ten want him to resign. Voters are punishing the prime minister for his mishandling of the economy and, in particular, his failure to press the United States on relocating its Okinawa military base. The spat over the U.S. Marine base caused a split in the three-party ruling coalition yesterday as the left-wing Social Democratic Party walked out. Could things get any worse for Yukio Hatoyama?

This is where party kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa comes into play. If he orders the PM to step down, the DPJ just might be able to rebrand itself before the next round of elections on July 11. But if Hatoyama stays in office, his party will need to gird itself for a tough campaign fight in which it stands on the losing side of just about every issue.

As of late Tuesday in Japan, private discussions with Ozawa seemed to leave Hatoyama smiling, but a lot could change in the next 24 hours.