Pakistan to Obama: Don't Pull Out the Troops From Afghanistan Just Yet

The Pakistani government is delivering a harsh new message to the Obama administration: The current chaos in Afghanistan means that the White House urgently needs to re-evaluate its plan to withdraw all American troops from the country by the end of 2016.

The White House has long had a vexed relationship with Pakistan, which is both a vital ally in the American push to decimate al Qaeda and a country that U.S. officials believe provides shelter and safe haven to an array of militant leaders. The relationship between the two countries has improved since the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has launched a large-scale military campaign designed to clear extremists out of northwestern Pakistan. On Wednesday, a series of airstrikes -- including several allegedly carried out by CIA drones -- killed at least 50 people in the region.

Despite the warming ties, however, a senior Pakistani official said Wednesday that his government was worried that the Obama administration would destabilize Afghanistan if it carried through with its drawdown plans, which would send at least 1.5 million refugees -- including unknown numbers of militants -- streaming across the border into Pakistan.

The official said the administration had based its withdrawal plans on three conditions, none of which have yet been met: free and fair elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power; the quick signing of a bilateral security arrangement allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country; and building an Afghan army capable of taking responsibility for securing their country as the U.S. footprint shrinks.

But with the front-runners in Afghanistan's presidential elections accusing each other of widespread electoral fraud, Taliban attacks increasing, and the security agreement still not signed, the senior Pakistani official said the entire withdrawal plan needed to be re-examined with an eye toward keeping American troops in the country beyond 2016.

"The whole basis of the drawdown has been challenged," he said. "When you make a plan based on certain assumptions and conditions, if those conditions are not met, I think the plan requires a [re-evaluation]."

The official said that lawmakers he spoke to on Capitol Hill expressed "worry" and "anxiety" about what could happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan if the withdrawal plans proceed on schedule. He said administration officials whom he spoke with agreed with his government's grim analysis of Afghanistan's current political and security situations, but said they also gave no indication that they were willing to consider changing their withdrawal plans.

"They do not say they will re-evaluate it, but they do not tell us, 'no, you are wrong,'" he said.

Indeed, President Obama, speaking at the White House Wednesday afternoon, pointedly emphasized that "our combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year." Under the current White House plan, the American combat mission in Afghanistan will come to an end this year as the number of U.S. troops falls to 9,800, less than a third the number there as of May. Nearly 5,000 troops would depart by the end of 2015, with the vast majority of the remaining troops leaving by the end of 2016.

The decline in U.S. troop levels comes as the American drone war inside Pakistan also shows signs of winding down. CIA drones carried out at least 117 strikes in 2010, but that number fell to 28 last year and just five so far this year, according to the Long War Journal, which tracks those attacks.

The senior Pakistani official said the decline in U.S. drone strikes reflected, in part, the administration's willingness to let Islamabad continue on again, off again peace talks with the Pakistani branch of the Taliban. With those talks now at a standstill, he said, "They've been unleashed again."

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images


What's More Dangerous: A 3-D Printed Gun or Vagina?

According to the gospel of the so-called maker movement -- the cottage industry of 3-D printing enthusiasts and users -- the spread of such printing and design technology is a revolutionary development, one that promises to return ownership to workers of the means of production to laborers. With a printer in every home, every worker becomes a factory owner. And like any good revolution, it's already running into trouble with the law. This week, a Japanese artist was arrested for making and distributing 3-D printed designs of her vagina.

Indeed, she isn't the first to land in hot water with the authorities for 3-D printing designs. Last year, Cody Wilson, the self-described anarchist behind the world's first 3-D printed gun, was admonished by the U.S. State Department for attempting to disseminate the design for his 3-D printed gun online. The  Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, it turns out, thought Wilson may have been violating of the Arms Export Control Act. By posting blueprints online, the office argued, Wilson may have been engaging in an act of export.

Now, the Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, who works under the pseudonym Rokudenashiko, which roughly translates as "good-for-nothing-girl," finds herself squarely in the crosshairs of the Japanese legal system for her subversive work behind the 3-D printer. Rokudenashiko's work centers on depictions of female genitalia, a deeply taboo subject in Japan, which despite its huge pornography industry takes a prudish approach to the sexual organs. By disseminating the 3-D blueprint of her vulva, Rokudenashiko allegedly violates a century-old statute that forbids the sale of obscene content, the legal statute that is at the heart of Japan's censorship regime and has resulted in the widespread blurring of, for example, sexual organs in Japanese pornography.

Rokudenashiko denies that she was paid for the work, but the police say otherwise. According to reports in the Japanese media quoting unnamed police sources, she received 1 million yen -- or about $10,000 dollars -- for the data.

But one doesn't really get the impression Rokudenashiko is in it for the money. Rokudenashiko argues that the vagina has become taboo in a way that the penis has not in Japanese society. And she probably has a point. The city of Kawasaki has an annual penis festival during which giant phalluses are paraded through the streets.

In the video below, Rokudenashiko explains her artistic process and how as an artist she came to respond to vagina taboos. She even makes a mold of her vagina on-camera. (And it's reasonably safe for the office.)

Rokudenashiko elaborates on those themes, explaining that the impulse to create art using her vagina was in part inspired by the fact that the lack of images depicting the female sexual organ had made her unsure about how one ought to look. (It, too, is reasonably safe for the office, unless your boss frowns upon the word “pussy” appearing repeatedly in subtitles.)

Still, the charges against Rokudenashiko seem overblown since isn't making pornography and certainly isn't constructing a literal weapon. Her artistic practice has so far included the construction of a kayak made in the likeness of her own vagina, which she built with the help of crowdfunding and paddled across a Tokyo lake. She's also made action figures outfitted with vaginas, t-shirts emblazoned with futuristic vagina prints, and hilarious posters of anthropomorphic vaginas.

It's a wonderful irony that the two most controversial uses of 3-D printing technology involve the manufacture of guns and vaginas. There's probably an art-theoretical comment to be made on their inverse qualities as symbols of destruction and creation, but I'll leave that to greater minds. For now, on the question of what is more dangerous -- a 3-D printed gun or vagina? -- I'll simply say that the literal answer is obvious and the symbolic one more complicated. The more interesting question is probably the following: Which would you prefer to see set free by the 3-D printer?