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Western Press Review: Rapprochement On The Subcontinent, Georgian Elections, And The World Without Oil

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 5 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- As much of the world returns to work today following the Christmas and New Year's holidays, attention is being paid in the press to a possible rapprochement between India and Pakistan, as the leaders of both countries meet for an informal "courtesy call" in Islamabad. Yesterday's presidential election in Georgia is also discussed, as preliminary results indicate opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, a main orchestrator of Tbilisi's Revolution of Roses in late November, won by a landslide. Other topics of interest in the media today include planning for a world without oil, the unintended consequences of international trials, and a U.S. probe's successful landing on Mars yesterday.

FINANCIAL TIMES:

The British-based "Financial Times" says today's meeting between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf represents a chance "to bring the prospect of peace in Kashmir a fraction closer."

The two leaders met this morning on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad. "They must seize the opportunity," the paper says, and "launch a peace process to defuse the conflict that could easily become the cause of the world's first nuclear war."

But the paper acknowledges that both Vajpayee and Musharraf face a possible "domestic backlash from hard-line nationalists" in their respective countries if they are viewed as making too many concessions. Nevertheless, progress is apparent. "A cease-fire on the 'line of control' across Kashmir seems to be holding. Transport links have been restored," and it seems both sides recognize "that closer economic ties would help toward political rapprochement."

But New Delhi continues to insist that Pakistan crack down on "terrorist and rebel bases" on its territory. Two assassination attempts on Musharraf in past weeks, the suspected work of "fundamentalist jihadi militants including those fighting India in Kashmir," could spur the Pakistani leader to take a much tougher stance -- "provided he can point to progress toward a lasting peace settlement with India."

The British daily says Vajpayee should agree to peace talks, thus presenting himself ahead of re-election as "a global statesman and peacemaker. That would also be the best insurance policy for General Musharraf," the paper says.

THE TIMES:

"The Times" of London says the first face-to-face talks today in two years between Indian and Pakistani heads of state are "the culmination of six months of imaginative diplomacy by both sides." Continuing rapprochement between the nuclear rivals made possible the range of agreements signed at the South Asia summit in Islamabad, including protocols on increasing regional trade, "combating terrorism, and a social charter laying out targets for alleviating poverty, strengthening human rights and improving health."

The long-standing contention between the two countries has "sapped the energy and will of both India and Pakistan to play roles on the world stage commensurate with their population and political weight." Indian troops have in the past played a "valuable" role in UN peacekeeping operations. Pakistan has also contributed troops to international projects and has been active with the Organization of the Islamic Conference. "But both regard foreign ties as a zero-sum game; close relations with Delhi or Islamabad automatically make a neighbor suspect in the eyes of the other."

The development of a new sense of trust on the subcontinent could make "a range of regional integration agreements" possible that might give South Asia -- which contains one-fifth of the world's population, the paper points out -- a much-needed cohesion. As for Delhi, there is another "overriding" interest: "stability on its borders and growth in its region would help it to compete with the giant in Asia and rival for influence: China."

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

Georgians went to the polls yesterday and, as widely expected, voted opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili to the presidency. Saakashvili was one of the main architects of November's Rose Revolution, which saw the peaceful overthrow of former President Eduard Shevardnadze.

"Nearly everyone emerging from the voting booths" in the poverty-stricken agricultural town of Sagarejo "said they cast their ballots for Saakashvili," writes Fred Weir in "The Christian Science Monitor." Describing Tbilisi's new president-elect as "a former New York attorney turned opposition leader" -- Saakashvili attended Columbia University -- Weir says Georgians have now "embraced the promise of sweeping change after a decade of economic stagnation, corruption and widespread poverty under Mr. Shevardnadze."

But not everyone is overjoyed at the prospect of a Saakashvili leadership, Weir says. While his supporters characterize him as "canny and charismatic," Saakashvili's detractors think him "an unscrupulous populist." Tbilisi's "telegenic" new leader "has moved rapidly to exploit the near-total defeat and disarray of Shevardnadze's forces."

Still, even the ousted Shevardnadze claims to have voted for the popular Saakashvili. But he had some words of advice for his former justice minister and onetime protege. Shevardnadze is reported as saying Saakashvili "should talk less and work more. Enough of populism. There is a great deal that needs to be done."

THE IRISH TIMES:

Daniel McLaughlin of "The Irish Times" says Saakashvili now "carries the hopes of a nation desperate to escape a decade of poverty, corruption and bloody separatism." His coming term in the presidency gives Saakashvili "a chance to transform what used to be one of the Soviet Union's most prosperous republics. But he must overhaul the nation while pacifying breakaway regions and old master Moscow, as well as satisfying the demands of key financier Washington."

Saakashvili is well aware that, "with a $1.7 billion debt burden and more than half the population living on less than $5 a day, no one can help better than the U.S., which is already Georgia's biggest supplier of aid."

As for Washington, political stability in Georgia is "vital" to safeguard its multibillion-dollar investment in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which will carry oil from the Caspian Sea "across the volatile Caucasus to Turkey, and then on to Western markets."

McLaughlin notes that good relations with Georgia also provide the Pentagon with "a strategic ally at the bridge between Europe and the Middle East."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

In a contribution to the "Financial Times," Michael Meacher, a former British environment minister, discusses the coming shortage of global oil resources. Today, world production stands at 75 million barrels per day (BPD). But to meet projected demand for 2015, the world would need to produce an additional 60 million BPD.

"This is frankly impossible," Meacher says. It would "require the equivalent of more than 10 new regions, each the size of the North Sea." Moreover, oil reserves are falling by an average of 4 percent to 6 percent a year.

Thus, an oil crisis can be expected "sometime between 2010 and 2015, perhaps earlier," says Meacher. And the "implications of this are mind-blowing." Transportation, farming industries, and national defense all depend on oil consumption. It is hard to fully grasp the effects "of a radically reduced oil supply on a modern economy or society."

One option in the "stark choice" the world now faces is to "pre-empt available remaining oil supplies, if necessary by military force." Its own rising demand has prompted the United States to pursue just such "an [integrated] oil-military strategy."

But most of the countries identified as new sources of supply "are riven by deep internal conflicts, strong anti-Americanism, or both." Iraq is "the first example of the cost -- both in cash and in soldiers' lives -- [of] resource wars in key oil-producing regions, a cost that even the U.S. may find unsustainable."

Meacher says, "The conclusion is clear: if we do not immediately plan to make the switch to renewable energy, [then] civilization faces the sharpest and perhaps most violent dislocation in recent history."

THE WASHINGTON TIMES:

In a contribution to "The Washington Times," syndicated columnist Mark Steyn says strong supporters of the idea of an international criminal tribunal "should look at what it boils down to in practice." He notes that on the last weekend of 2003, former Serbian leader and accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic won a seat in Serbia's legislature, as did his fellow accused war criminal and head of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Vojislav Seselj. The nationalist SRS "won more seats than anybody else."

Although The Hague tribunal, which is handling the prosecutions of both men, "forbade Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Seselj from actively campaigning in the Serbian election, they somehow managed to." Steyn says, "In other words, 'international law' is unable to enforce its judgments even in its own jailhouse."

In fact, says Steyn, the international tribunal's prosecution of Milosevic over the past two years is in part responsible for his renewed popularity. In 2000, when Milosevic "was swept from power, he was a discredited figure, a European pariah reviled as a murderous butcher." But after two years on trial at The Hague, "he's all but fully rehabilitated."

Steyn says that "every indictment of [chief prosecutor Carla Del] Ponte's drove Mr. Milosevic's vote numbers higher. Had Serbs prosecuted Mr. Milosevic, that would have been one thing. But once it became Euro-preeners prosecuting Serbs, an understandable resentment set in."

Steyn advises the international community not to make the same mistake with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. For his trial to have real legitimacy in the eyes of his former victims, he must be tried in Iraq, by Iraqis.

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

An item in "The Christian Science Monitor" discusses the successful weekend landing on Mars of a probe launched by the U.S. space agency NASA. The "Spirit" probe landed as planned on the surface of the red planet and quickly sent pictures back to Earth of Gusev Crater, which is thought by some scientists to have once contained water and, thus, the possibility of forming life. A second robot probe, "Opportunity," is expected to land at another site on the planet on 24 January.

The Boston-based daily calls the twin geologist-robots "the most sophisticated scientific probes ever sent to another planet." Their explorations "will bring a whole new sophistication to the geological understanding" of Mars. They are expected to map over 2 miles of the planet's surface, taking photos and analyzing minerals "for hints of past water, or even reservoirs of ice below the surface, that could suggest Mars was warm and wet billions of years ago."

Probes sent by Japan and Europe failed on their missions in recent weeks, but NASA's success may provide hope that more probes will be sent in the future. The paper says the "hits and misses of space travel, either manned or unmanned, are often discouraging, but the latest images from Mars and the other recent discoveries are exciting reminders of why the human race can, and must, keep exploring outer space, even if the first simple goal is to find water."
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