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Western Press Review: Afghanistan's Drug Trade, Attacks In Tashkent And Brutal Slayings In Al-Fallujah

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics up for debate in some of the world's leading dailies today are the rebuilding of Afghanistan as a donors conference in Berlin this week pledged $8.2 billion in additional aid to the country; ongoing violence in Uzbekistan, blamed by authorities on Islamic extremists; and the brutal slaying of four Western contractors in the central Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah, carried out in front of the world's television cameras.


"As Afghanistan's drug trade goes, so goes the country," says an editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor." The paper calls this "a sad admission, but an honest one."

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai acknowledged as much at the donors conference this week in Berlin, describing what the paper calls "the essence of his nation's challenge" by saying, "The fight against drugs is actually the fight for Afghanistan." Poppy growing currently generates more than half the national income of this impoverished country.

"This endangered new democracy can use all the antidrug assistance it can get," the paper says. Since the Taliban was toppled in 2001, poppy cultivation has steadily risen, and now accounts for two-thirds of the world's opium. A “nation-building experiment now threatens to turn into a narco-state hatchery.”

The paper says it was a mistake to put many of Afghanistan's regional governors "in charge of eradication, when some of them were involved in poppy growing" themselves. But creative alternatives are now being devised, and today 400 Afghan farmers are instead cultivating saffron, the world's most expensive, and thus profitable, spice.

As donors in Berlin this week pledged an additional $8.2 billion toward rebuilding the country, the paper says "stepped-up international commitment, and Kabul's renewed effort, [are] welcome signs that serious attention is finally being given this problem."


An editorial today discusses this week's violence in Uzbekistan, which has resulted in more than 40 deaths in Tashkent and Bukhara. Uzbek President Islam Karimov "has portrayed the violence as another episode in the global struggle against terrorism." But while the paper says Uzbekistan has lured Islamic extremists, some of them thought to be allied with Taliban remnants or Al-Qaeda, Karimov himself "may have done as much to produce the terrorists as he has to combat them."

Karimov "has never abandoned police-state tactics, despite repeated appeals from his new allies in Washington and in Europe. For at least a decade, he has persecuted independent religious activity in his Muslim nation." At the same time, his government "has refused to allow the emergence of a free press, an independent judiciary or opposition political parties." Human rights groups now fear that "another wave of repression" will wash over the country.

In the next few weeks, the U.S. administration and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will decide whether to suspend aid to Uzbekistan on the grounds its commitments to political and economic reform have not been met.

The paper says Karimov might try to use this week's series of attacks to argue that he cannot realistically fulfill these obligations. But the U.S. administration "should reject such excuses," the paper says. "If Mr. Karimov is allowed to perpetuate his police state with U.S. support, he will merely ensure that terrorists continue to breed in his country -- and that Uzbeks blame the United States as well as their dictator for their misery."


"Yesterday's horrific attacks in Fallujah marked a new and pernicious turn of events that could have repercussions far beyond Iraq and far into the future," says the London-based daily. The public "slaughter" of four foreign contractors in Al-Fallujah was carried out as the perpetrators and observers visibly rejoiced in front of television cameras.

This latest assault "will hardly encourage foreign companies to tender for work in Iraq," the paper says. It could, in fact, "herald a retreat, at the very time that foreign contractors will be most needed, as preparations are made for the return of sovereignty to an Iraqi administration at the end of June."

"The Independent" says without such contractors and the work they are doing in the country, "the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure and desperately needed utilities will take even longer, intensifying the frustration of ordinary people." And yet, as long as unarmed civilian workers are there, "they risk being seen [as] easy foreign targets that can be picked off one by one."

There is no way to tell what effects the worldwide broadcast of the attacks -- with varying degrees of censorship -- will have around the world. Americans will be "justified" in responding with "condemnation, bitterness and anger," and may even call for a troop withdrawal. In parts of the Arab world, there may be "rejoicing at the 'punishment' meted out to the occupiers and their agents."

But one thing is relatively certain, says the paper -- the violence in Al-Fallujah "will prove unhelpful to any sort of normalization in Iraq."


The European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" says all the perpetrators of the Al-Fallujah attack and those rejoicing in front of the cameras while it was carried out should be immediately rounded up and prosecuted in a high-profile manner.

"[The] massacre of four civilian contractors in Fallujah should serve as a wake-up call to the occupation forces that democracy will have a hard time taking root in Iraq so long as justice takes a holiday," says the paper. A "year without justice has also been a year without enough deterrence, and Fallujans now have more reason to fear the consequences of working with the Americans than the consequences of killing them."

The editorial acknowledges that there are what it calls "political calculations" informing the soft-touch approach at times favored by the U.S.-led occupation. "There are worries that the military trial and execution of the irregular combatants [would] only inflame the already restive Sunni Triangle, and perhaps the Arab world generally. There is also an understandable desire for Iraqis themselves to be seen doing justice to their former tormentors in Saddam Hussein's regime."

But it is Iraqis who continue to "suffer most from the lawlessness" in the country, says the paper. And no number of additional troops "would have made much difference so long as we feared meting out punishment for fear of giving offense."


The Belgian daily "Le Soir" discusses the situation in Uzbekistan following several days of violence in the capital and elsewhere that have led to the deaths of more than 40 people. Police and soldiers continue to patrol Tashkent, where checkpoints have been set up to manage the flow of traffic. The border with Tajikistan has been sealed. Officials are calling for intensive and continuing investigations. And schools and universities remain closed until further notice.

But the paper says information on the week's events coming from the Uzbek authorities, a regime that President Karimov rules "with an iron fist," must be regarded with prudence. The paper cites a Human Rights Watch representative as warning against prematurely assuming that the attacks are linked to international terrorism. They may, in fact, be due to domestic dissatisfaction with the current regime.

There are growing fears that there may be a spate of arrests of non-violent, dissenting Muslims throughout the country. A similar sweep followed a wave of attacks in 1999 that left 16 dead in Tashkent. At that time, the authorities accused the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), as well as members of the democratic opposition, against which Karimov's regime continues to lead "a battle without mercy."


Columnist Quentin Peel says, "No one should be surprised at the explosion of violence in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan this week. A country with more than 5,000 political prisoners, an unreconstructed post-Soviet dictatorship, rampant corruption and a slumping economy is an accident waiting to happen."

As far as the United States is concerned, there are "three fundamental reasons" for its interest in Central Asia and the Caucasus: "fighting terrorism; restraining excessive Russian influence in its old backyard; and ensuring that oil and gas from the Caspian region can safely reach the outside world."

Peel says, "Promoting democracy does not feature in that agenda. Yet without it, all the rest may be at risk."

Engagement with the region is necessary, but "it is time for governments and investors in the U.S. and Europe to send consistent and much tougher messages about the need for clean and open governance. Military aid is not what Uzbekistan needs. Nor should it be getting unmitigated praise" from U.S. officials for its cooperation in the war on terrorism.

Uzbekistan needs "better-trained policemen, prison officers, lawyers and judges. It needs better economic advice, to open its borders and to diversify its economy away from cotton." But Peel says it is unlikely to get these things from the Pentagon.

The trouble, he says, is that the U.S. administration "is still paranoid about getting involved in 'nation-building.'" And this is "precisely what is required in Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia. In the long run, it is the only way to counter terrorism."