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Western Press Review: A Renewed Russian-Tajik Alliance, And Karzai Goes To Washington

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 15 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics under discussion in some of the major dailies today are Moscow's strengthened strategic alliance with Dushanbe; renewing the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan; foundering liberal reform in the former Soviet bloc; and European Union parliamentary elections, in which voters sent a strong message to incumbent parties across the continent.


"Russia appears to be the winner in the geopolitical struggle for Tajikistan," writes a Tajik journalist under the pseudonym of Kambiz Arman. At a 4 June summit between the Russian and Tajik presidents, Moscow "secured a dominant economic and military position in Tajikistan for the foreseeable future."

In exchange for Russia's decision to write off $300 million in debt, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov gave Russia the rights to the Nurek space-surveillance center, one of the most advanced in the former Soviet bloc. Arman says many regional analysts now predict Russia will establish a permanent military presence on Tajik territory.

These developments follow Rakhmonov's short-lived attempt to establish a closer strategic relationship with the United States. Some political observers now say that his "sudden shift" reflects his "growing disenchantment with U.S. policy in Central Asia." In particular, Arman says Tajik officials are reportedly disappointed over the amount of assistance Dushanbe receives from Washington. "They also worry that U.S.-led stabilization efforts in neighboring Afghanistan are flagging, posing a serious security threat for the entire region."

Other regional experts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin might have "coerced Rakhmonov [by] threatening to forcibly return thousands of Tajik labor migrants now working in Russia." Many Tajik families rely on remittances sent from relatives abroad, and a sudden halt to this migration could be "politically destabilizing" for Rakhmonov.

But Arman cites one Moscow-based Tajik journalist as saying that Rakhmonov might be strengthening his alliance with Russia to hold on to his own power, as Dushanbe prepares for parliamentary elections in 2005 and a presidential ballot the following year. Rakhmonov might be taking "preventive action" to ensure Moscow does not throw its support behind the opposition.


Afghan affairs analyst Barnett Rubin of New York University says that when Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai arrives at the White House today, the "most convincing show of support he could receive from [U.S.] President George W. Bush would be a statement lifting the pressure on Afghanistan to hold its elections before the U.S. presidential election" on 2 November.

Rubin says "none of the elements needed for free and fair elections is in place" in Afghanistan. Taliban attacks, warlord power struggles and rampant banditry continue to dominate the Afghan landscape. Many Afghans "believe that the only reason for the rush to elections is to provide Washington with an exit strategy. After both the U.S. and Afghan elections, they believe, Washington wants to declare victory in Afghanistan and focus all available resources on Iraq."

Moreover, "the low-cost way in which the Bush administration has tried to pursue its policies in Afghanistan while focusing resources on Iraq has strengthened these suspicions."

A statement of renewed U.S. support "should be accompanied by clear commitment to the total demobilization of militias, building a national administration, extending an international security umbrella to the provinces and establishing an antidrug policy that cuts off profits to traffickers while providing livelihoods for farmers who depend on opium."

Rubin says Bush should take the opportunity presented by his meeting with Karzai "to signal clearly that U.S. support is not conditional on the [Afghan] elections being held in September."


A contribution by Jeffrey Kuhner of the Ripon Society -- a nonprofit research, public policy, and social-welfare organization -- says the prevailing assumption among American conservatives is that the breakup of the Soviet Union "signaled the death knell of Marxist-Leninist ideology throughout Eastern Europe." But this assumption is wrong, he says.

"Communism may be dead, but the prevailing communist mind-set continues to live on," Kuhner says.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reigns over "an increasingly authoritarian Russia." Kuhner says the former KGB chief seeks to establish a Russian neo-empire that would dominate several former Soviet republics. To the west, Belarus is ruled by a "Stalinist strongman" who has created a "one-party police state."

Meanwhile, "in Ukraine, Bulgaria and Serbia, neocommunist reactionaries have sought to derail their countries' efforts to enter NATO and become full members of the West. In all these nations, the Red old guard continues to exercise a predominant influence over the media, the military and the political class."

Kuhner says the former communist bloc is in effect being divided into two camps -- "those who share the West's moral values and those who do not."

And yet this division is far from inevitable, Kuhner says. He says the U.S. administration should foster "closer ties with reformists in the Balkans and Ukraine, and provide them assistance to dismantle the old communist structures and carry out real democratic reforms."

The United States also needs "to provide greater support for pivotal democratic allies, such as the new conservative government in Croatia." A "good first step" would be a U.S. "commitment to support Croatia's fast-track entry into NATO," as a counterweight to those Kuhner calls Croatia's "dogmatic neocommunists."


A contribution by Samina Ahmed and John Norris of the International Crisis Group says despite his vocal rejections of militant extremism and avowed support for socioeconomic liberalization, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is not doing enough to reform Pakistan's political landscape.

Musharraf recently decried the tactics used by militants and "insisted that political injustice lay at the heart of the vast suffering of Muslims around the globe." He said Muslims should reject extremism "in favor of socioeconomic progress" and called for the United States to take a greater role in resolving the Muslim world's political disputes, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that over Kashmir.

Norris and Ahmed say while the rhetoric sounds good, Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, "continues to avoid handing real power back to democratically elected officials." The U.S. administration continues to insist that Iraq may someday serve as "a shining example of Islamic democracy in action." But it also "continues to offer a blank check to a Pakistani government in which all power resides in the military." Islamabad's limitations on democratic freedoms are "draconian," say the authors.

Pakistan could indeed "serve as the force of moderation and enlightenment espoused by Musharraf," but it would call for "enlightened leadership on his part. Pakistan's military needs to return to the sidelines of political life and give its moderate political parties -- which have always done reasonably well in keeping a lid on extremism -- a chance to function."


After the rout of ruling parties and the low voter turnout that characterized last week's elections to the European Parliament, Baudouin Bollaert says the task facing European Union officials meeting in Brussels this weekend will be "singularly delicate."

Two main items are on the agenda -- finalizing an EU constitution and choosing a successor to Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission.

An agreement is already slowly taking shape on the European constitution, Bollaert says. The only outstanding issues are some details regarding decision-making through the "double-majority" system, in which both a majority of states and a majority of EU citizens must vote in favor, and on the number of EU commissioners.

But Bollaert says it will be difficult for leaders such as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, or Poland's interim prime minister, Marek Belka, to make viable decisions on the future of the EU just a week after being soundly repudiated at the polls.

Nevertheless, Bollaert says, voters seemed to be basing their decisions primarily on national criteria rather than on issues affecting the union as a whole. And pro-European leaders in Spain, Greece, and Luxembourg did well at the polls. But overall, it still seems that the progression of the pan-European project arouses as much public indifference as ever.