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Balloons and firearms: A glimpse of an Afghan holiday

March 20, 2012 |  9:51 pm

Boy with balloons in Kabul

Every day on World Now, we choose a striking shot from around the globe. Today our eye was drawn to this photo of a little boy celebrating the Persian New Year with a bright bouquet of balloons -- a sharp contrast to the weapons-toting Afghan security personnel in drab khaki behind him.

Though Nowruz is known as the Persian New Year, it is celebrated beyond Iran, including in Turkey and Afghanistan. This boy was photographed in Kabul.

The celebration comes at a tense time in Afghanistan. In the wake of a shooting rampage that killed women and children in their sleep, allegedly carried out by a U.S. soldier, President Hamid Karzai has called for a quicker transfer of security responsibilities from NATO to Afghan forces.

But there are worries about just how ready the Afghan forces are to take charge. The Times' Laura King wrote last month:

Even as senior allied commanders proclaim that a leaner, better-trained Afghan force will be capable of taking over most fighting duties from Western troops by the end of next year, the problems that have long plagued the Afghan police and army — repeated turncoat shootings aimed at Western mentors, drug use, high attrition rates, inadequate vetting of recruits, persistent logistical weakness and vulnerability to insurgent infiltration — are coming into sharper focus.

With pressure to leave building from both Afghan leaders and U.S. critics, the commander of NATO and U.S. troops took the new year holiday as an opportunity to restate his commitment to Afghanistan.

“Nowruz is a time for peace and harmony for all Afghans.... On this new year, we reaffirm our pledge that we are committed to a long and lasting partnership with you, our Afghan brothers, a partnership well beyond 2014,” Marine Gen. John Allen said in a recorded statement.

Afghan First Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim told people celebrating Nowruz in Mazar-i-Sharif that their sovereignty must be respected in "this strategic partnership," the Associated Press reported.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A boy with balloons stands next to Afghan security personnel near a shrine in Kabul where people were celebrating the Persian New Year. Credit: S. Sabawoon / European Pressphoto Agency