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Western Press Review: Pakistan's Coup Causes Dismay

By Ranji Sinha and Susan Caskie

Prague, 13 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The military coup yesterday in Pakistan that has toppled the government of Nawaz Sharif dominates commentary in the Western press today.

GUARDIAN: The military coup is a blow to democracy

In an editorial today, London's the Guardian laments the ouster of Prime Minister Sharif, as in its words, "another dismaying milestone in the troubled history of Pakistan."

The Guardian comments: "It is a blow to democracy, a blow to Pakistan's image abroad and a blow to those who hope for peace in the subcontinent, most especially between Pakistan and India." The Guardian warns, "The Pakistani plotters should make no mistake, whatever Mr. Sharif's failings there must be no repeat of the Bhutto horror" -- a reference to the 1979 execution of then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after a military coup.

TIMES: Mr. Sharif sowed the seeds of his own downfall

The Times of London comments that the military might not be a bad option for governance in Pakistan. The Times blames Prime Minister Sharif for mismanaging the country. In its words, "Seldom has a politician so frivolously squandered the goodwill that originally brought him victory against the tainted government of Benazir Bhutto."

The Times writes that Sharif failed to reform the government, and his nuclear testing only brought the country sanctions and economic instability.

The Times of London concludes: "Mr. Sharif sowed the seeds of his own downfall by maladroit handling of Pakistan's ill-considered incursion into Indian territory in disputed Kashmir. India's tough military response and a frosty reaction from the West forced Mr. Sharif into a humiliating climbdown in July." It is this climbdown, The Times writes, that eventually led to the coup.

NEW YORK TIMES: There are no military solutions to Pakistan's problems

A New York Times editorial says the Pakistani coup is "cause for alarm." In its words: "A nation newly armed with nuclear weapons, and with a volatile history of wars and internal upheavals, has been seized by a general who may be inclined to favor a more confrontational approach with India." The newspaper continues: "Suddenly, after fitful steps toward India-Pakistan rapprochement, the subcontinent is once again one of the most dangerous places on earth."

The New York Times also traces the roots of the coup to Sharif's failures and to the withdrawal from Kashmir that angered Pakistani generals. Still it says, "Such excesses cannot excuse the military's action."

The editorial observes that the United States has little leverage to press Pakistan for a return to democracy, having imposed sanctions after last year's nuclear tests. But it urges the U.S. to work at defusing tension and restoring civilian government, saying: "Pakistani leaders must also realize that, military coups or not, there are no military solutions to Pakistan's problems."

NEW YORK TIMES: It is time to rethink our approach to arms control

On U.S. ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty, former CIA director Robert Gates, who headed the agency under President George Bush and served on the National Security Council under four presidents, writes in the New York Times. He opposes ratifying the treaty.

Republican opponents of ratification have cited difficulties in monitoring compliance. Gates says those fears are legitimate. He says other security threats besides nuclear testing are also difficult to monitor -- for example, chemical and biological weapons development. In his words, "No agreements pertaining to these threats can be monitored with the same confidence as the bilateral strategic arms agreements signed with the Soviet Union years ago."

He says that multilateral negotiations on proliferation of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons are essential, but adds this: "But I question whether formal, ratified treaties are the most effective way to deal diplomatically with such threats."

Gates says arms control negotiations are stuck in a Cold War mentality and should be revised. He suggests that those nations whose behavior is of concern should not be party to negotiations, so that a resulting agreement can be more aggressive at containing the threat. And he recommends that more flexible agreements be devised that allow for revision as technology advances.

The former CIA director concludes: "When the United States refuses to ratify a multinational treaty even if it is because the agreement cannot deliver what it promises, our international leadership and prestige nonetheless suffer a real blow. We must not put ourselves in this corner again. It is time to rethink our approach to arms control."

TIMES: I would lift sanctions on Yugoslavia at once

Turning to a different subject, humanitarian aid to Serbia, Simon Jenkins comments in The Times of London. He writes that NATO sanctions against Serbia are hurting the public but actually helping Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The sanctions have, in his words, "left the roads of Serbia empty of traffic, its airports desolate, its fuel stations closed and its formal economy in ruins." Meanwhile, Jenkins says, Milosevic's people control the thriving black market that has sprung up in the absence of legitimate aid.

Jenkins offers his own solution, writing: "I would lift sanctions on Yugoslavia at once, all of them. I would wreck Mr. Milosevic's black market with trade, not with bombs. I would cheat his buddies of their fuel franchises and illicit currency rackets, and rebuild the bridges and privatized factories with outside cash. I would reopen links to universities and schools. NATO's blocking of the Danube must be ended."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The anger is intense

On the killing of a UN worker in Kosovo, commentator Peter Muench writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, "The anger is intense, because the victim came to the UN-administered protectorate as a helper."

Muench criticizes the West for not curbing Albanian aggression and for what he says is support for UCK military leader and head of state Hashim Thaci. He writes, "Anybody who can so frivolously encourage the dreams of absolute power harbored by men of Thaci's mold should really not be surprised at the brutality it occasions."