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Western Press Review: Chechnya, Pakistan

By Ranji Sinha

Prague, 12 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Today's western press includes a detailed commentary in the Economist on Chechnya and next week's summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The unfolding situation in a Pakistan under military rule is the focus for other commentary.

ECONOMIST: Russia stands only to gain if it now declares a ceasefire and opens talks

The Economist urges the West to do something about Chechnya at the OSCE summit in Istanbul. The commentary raises concerns over the possible spreading of violence throughout the Caucasus region. It also takes note of reports of insubordination among Russian generals who seem ready to carry out the war with or without the politicians.

The Economist writes: "In Istanbul every western bigwig from [U.S. President] Bill Clinton down should be impressing upon Russia that it stands only to gain if it now declares a ceasefire and opens talks with Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen's Leader." The weekly continues: "Had Russia been wise, it would have long since come to terms with him and helped him to fend off the wild men who have had made his statelet ungovernable."

The strategy the Economist offers to force Russian cooperation is to suspend Russia from the Council of Europe and to end cash loans or food aid through Russian government channels.

The Economist says that the stakes in the new Chechen conflict are high. In the weekly's words: "they include not just the suffering of the Chechens but the stability of the Caucasus and, perhaps, of Russia itself."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The communist party might support Vladimir Putin if he perseveres his hawkish stance

In the Financial Times of London, John Thornhill and David Stern also ask whether Russia can contain the fighting in the Caucasus. And like the Economist, they also see the OSCE summit as the best chance foreign leaders will have to pressure Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Thornhill and Stern suggest popular support for the war in Russia, which is bringing nationalists and militarists together, could gain even more strength.

They write: "The communist party, which remains the biggest parliamentary faction in Russia, has temporarily buried its differences with the Kremlin and hinted it might support Vladimir Putin, President Yeltsin's Prime Minister and heir apparent, if he perseveres with his hawkish stance toward Chechnya."

The writers comment that the rise in Russian militarism is unsettling to the countries of the Caucasus. They also argue that Russian politicians will likely find that they have very little control over the course of events in Chechnya.

LIBERATION: Information is mastered, channeled, filtered and sculpted

In the French daily "Liberation," Jean-Pierre Thibaudt writes that the Russian press is still carefully filtering information about the Chechen war -- and is taking an increasingly anti-Western tone. He notes that Russia took particular exception to France's welcoming of Chechen diplomat Ilias Akhmadov, and that the Russian press portrayed the action as part of an anti-Russian campaign ahead of the OSCE summit.

In Thibaudt's words: "The first war in Chechnya was lost by the Russians for several reasons, among them the [failure to control] information [about the war]. Moscow has learned its lesson: this time, information is mastered, channeled, filtered and sculpted."

Thibaudt continues: "As in Kosovo, the Russian media are taking their time, both in showing the refugees and in shaping their portrayal of [the refugee crisis]. They said then that [the Kosovars] were fleeing the NATO bombs; this time, the Chechen refugees are [said to be] fleeing the 'bandits' and not the Russian bombardment."

NEW YORK TIMES: Any investigation cannot become an excuse for rushing a political rival to execution

On Pakistan, The New York Times runs an editorial critical of the country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. The paper writes: "Musharraf has been disturbingly slow in presenting his timetable for a restoration of democracy. This week his military government took an alarming step backward by filing charges of treason, hijacking and kidnapping against the ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif."

The editorial comments that Pakistan should learn some lessons from an earlier military coup in the late 1970s. That is when military leaders overthrew and hung Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, provoking worldwide condemnation.

Writing that charges against Sharif are murky, the editorial urges a watchful eye on actions taken by the generals against former government officials, including Sharif and another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

The New York Times continues: "No one doubts that there is reason to pursue corruption charges against both politicians. Indeed Musharraf's pledge to rid Pakistani politics of its systematic thievery was greeted positively even by his critics. But any investigation cannot become an excuse for rushing a political rival to execution."

NEW YORK TIMES: The United States would be wise not to sanction and isolate Pakistan further

In a separate commentary also in the New York Times, Frank Anderson, former chief of the CIA's Near East division and Milt Bearden, former CIA chief in Pakistan, offer a strategy for dealing with Musharraf to insure that democracy is restored.

They write: "The United States would be wise not to sanction and isolate Pakistan further. We should hold the generals' feet to the fire to insure they move steadily toward free elections while making it clear that we hold them to high standards of behavior toward their people and their neighbors."

The two add that to abandon Pakistan now would insure disaster. They write: "If a state fails and slips into chaos, it is largely because the United States made a conscious decision to disengage, to isolate or to sanction. This is what happened in Somalia and Afghanistan over the last decade. We must not let it happen to a nuclear-armed Pakistan."

TIMES: The Commonwealth should do more to monitor the democratic credentials of member governments

The Times of London focuses on the approach of the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies to the coup. The grouping of states has suspended Pakistan pending its return to democracy, but otherwise it is not taking further punitive action. The Times argues that this is the right strategy.

The paper writes that Pakistan's ousted government was "elected, and therefore automatically deemed a worthy Commonwealth member." But the paper writes that the country's former civilian rulers: "behaved in a very undemocratic fashion, suppressing the very things -- press freedom and judicial independence -- that democratic governments are supposed to encourage."

The Times calls on the Commonwealth to do more to monitor the democratic credentials of member governments, not just accept them as full members if they happen to have come to power through democratic processes.