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Western Press Review: Cautious Support For Campaign Against Terror

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 10 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- With U.S.-led military operations now under way in earnest in Afghanistan, several Western commentators examine the difficulties faced by members of the antiterrorism coalition in choosing to side with the United States, while their domestic populations oppose the military strikes. Others have focused attention on what will likely replace the Taliban in Kabul, if or when the regime is toppled.

EURASIA VIEW:

In "Eurasia View," journalist Alima Bisenova looks at Kazakhstan's tenuous situation in the "war against terror." Along with other nations in the Central Asia region, she says, Kazakhstan is struggling to find a way to appear supportive of the U.S.-led campaign while avoiding direct participation. Bisenova calls this "a twin strategy of combining vocal support with self-protection."

Kazakhstan has sought to isolate itself against destabilizing forces in the region -- primarily the possible influx of refugees -- by tightening its borders. Bisenova quotes an unnamed military official as explaining that the refugees themselves are one problem, "but the greater problem is that terrorists and militants might flee northward disguised as civilians."

She says that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other leaders "are doubtless concerned that the violence connected with the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign could spread beyond the borders of Afghanistan. Therefore, Kazakhstan's participation in the anti-terrorism cause will be limited mostly to providing moral support."

WASHINGTON POST:

An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that the campaign against terrorism can only be won if extremist ideology is addressed and discredited. The editorial says that Osama bin Laden's mixture of religious fervor and anti-Western rage "strikes a chord among people in many Muslim nations, especially among the poor and disenfranchised."

The paper says that while extremists are not the majority in any country, "They are numerous enough to intimidate otherwise friendly [Muslim] governments into withholding support from the campaign against terrorism. [These] governments also make little or no effort to counter the diffusion of the extremists' ideological pitch." Instead of a real defense of mainstream Islam or of secular government, the paper says, the response of Muslim governments has too often "consisted of volleys of gunfire against demonstrators, as happened on Monday [8 October, in Pakistan]. Governments that too often have shunned democracy and rejected or postponed modernization have sought to buy peace by allowing the unimpeded broadcast of the terrorist message on state-run media."

The paper concludes: "Muslim countries will have to offer policies that promise economic progress and political liberty." Only that can triumph over what the editorial calls "the extremists' program of hate."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" looks at the 2002 European Union constitutional convention, which will bring together representatives from European and national parliaments as well as officials from EU candidate states. The paper says that the convention is to be much-welcomed, as the EU faces a critical moment in its history -- preparing for the expansion from 15 to 28 or more nations. At this juncture, the paper says, the EU "needs to take a hard look at its cumbersome and opaque structures."

The most difficult item on the convention agenda, the paper says, will be how to divide jurisdictions between the EU, the member states and their regions. Constitutional changes are needed to make the basic structures and institutions already in place "more relevant and more effective." In addition, it says, there is a need for more democratic accountability in EU decision-making.

The editorial goes on to suggest allowing EU candidate members to vote in the convention proceedings and to take part as "fully-fledged participants" in the debate.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," "Atlantic Monthly" correspondent Robert Kaplan says the West should not attempt to impose Western democratic ideals on the Middle East. To do so, he says, will lead not to peace and security but to more unrest and instability. Kaplan says: "The task in the new century in the Middle East will be [determining] how to create new forms of authority out of the wreckage of decayed systems. Vast social and economic change mean the next generation of Muslim autocrats will be unable to rule as autocratically as the present generation. Yet these societies don't have experience in democratic rule, which requires toleration, moderation and patience."

The early stages of democracy in the region, Kaplan says, would be likely to lead to what he calls "demagogic politicians competing with each other over who can be more anti-American and more anti-Semitic." In addition, he says, radical youths may take advantage of any democratization process to support new tyrannies. Kaplan writes: "Iranian voters have displayed moderation only because they -- unlike most Arabs -- have an actual, negative experience with Islamic revolution, rather than a foggy, romantic notion of one."

Kaplan concludes that "the surest path toward more open societies in these countries is not some [experiment] in democracy [but] moderate military regimes representing the interests of merchant communities that span sectarian lines." And what Kaplan calls "status quo monarchies and enlightened dictatorships" may function better -- at least for now -- than "weak and unstable" democratic regimes.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU:

Karl Grobe, writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," comments on the death of four UN assistants on the second day of the U.S.-led air attacks in Afghanistan. Grobe writes that the European states have raised considerable sums of money to help the Afghan people suffering deprivations caused by 10 years of war and the Taliban regime. But he says more needs to be done. The reality on the ground in Afghanistan, he adds, is worse than any pessimists dare to describe.

Grobe says U.S. food deliveries can be regarded as a gesture of goodwill, but it has yet to be determined whether even this meager help is actually reaching those who need it. He writes: "It is worth the attempt, but the success is questionable."

He adds that those who could act as a crucial link on the ground -- Afghans actively engaged in humanitarian aid -- automatically fall under suspicion with the Taliban. Grobe concludes: "If all that is left are friends and foes, then humanity has no chance."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

An analysis by Joseph Fitchett in the "International Herald Tribune" considers the Afghanistan's future political life if the Taliban regime should topple. Already, he says, "the largely Uzbek forces in the north are competing with the Pashtun groupings in the south, which are allied with the exiled former king [Mohammed Zahir Shah] in trying to convince Washington to use its air power in ways that help one faction or the other to take the lead in attacking Kabul."

The key to Afghan stability, Fitchett says, will be establishing an ethnically balanced regime to replace the Taliban. The Northern Alliance is dominated by Uzbek and Tajik minorities and Shiite Muslims -- in contrast to Afghanistan's largely Sunni Muslim and ethnic Pashtun majority population. He writes: "The prospects for a stable ethnic cooperation in post-war Afghanistan would be badly compromised at the outset if the country's Uzbek and Tajik-related minorities seemed too powerful." He cites Western officials as saying that "for long-term stability, [political] prominence must go to the country's Pashtun majority" -- a condition that Pakistan also supports.

Fitchett quotes Afghan specialist Olivier Roy as saying that initially, a UN peacekeeping force -- including contingents from Muslim nations -- will be needed to prevent ethnic violence in Kabul. It will be crucial, he says, to maintain Afghanistan's neutral status, so surrounding nations will no longer seek to create zones of influence within its borders.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" runs an editorial by Wolf Lepenies commenting on the unprecedented coalition of nations forged by the U.S. to fight terrorism. Lepenies writes: "It seems as if the U.S., which for years held the UN in deep mistrust and almost brought it to the verge of financial ruin, has newly discovered this organization and turned it into a mighty striking power. America was clever enough to procure a mandate from the Security Council. Woodrow Wilson's dream, which did not come true after World War One, seems to have been realized in attacking the Taliban. At last there is a League of Nations."

Lepenies describes the reactions of various nations. Russia, he says, is behaving as if it were already a NATO member. Arch-enemies Pakistan and India are aligned in the same coalition. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat poses to give blood for Israel's friends, and Germany sets aside its domestic political conflicts. Lepenies writes: "Terror is uniting all, while each has a different understanding of the concept of terrorists. In Russia it's the Chechens, in China it's Tibet, in Saudi Arabia it is the dissidents who are due to carry the consequences. The far-sightedness that currently unites them is being paid for by looking the other way."

Lepenies goes on to analyze the U.S. position. He says the U.S. is in danger of succumbing to illusions of universal moral principles, trusting that its leadership is recognized in the entire civilized world and will be supported with honest enthusiasm. But, he adds, "this can be questioned, in spite of the solidarity rhetoric. Far more, the terrorist attacks have interrupted a process which aims at balancing world power to reduce the dominance of the only superpower."

He continues: "When the time comes for the reinstatement of clans, or better still democratic rulers in Afghanistan, then various strivings for power will again come to the fore. This has nothing to do with anti-Americanism. If the alliance against terror proves viable, then a new freedom to negotiate will be manifested whose limits will not be determined by the fixed gaze of the U.S. If this endeavor succeeds, then the U.S. will profit most."

LE MONDE:

A "Le Monde" editorial says that it now appears clear that Islam has no official spokesperson. As one of the three great monotheisms of the world, with over 1 billion followers, Islam is rich in its variety of schools and interpretations. But one might not have thought so following Osama bin Laden's general call on 7 October for a jihad, or holy struggle, against Jews and Americans. In the end, "Le Monde" says, bin Laden's remarks may have only been an appeal to indiscriminate, racist violence -- something that is at odds with Islamic tradition.

Now, "Le Monde" says, the world is waiting -- so far in vain -- to hear from Muslim religious authorities and intellectuals, who were expected to reject bin Laden's characterization of Islam and defend their faith from this narrow and misguided interpretation. The editorial notes that the Arab regimes have remained silent as well, refusing to say publicly that they support the operation launched by the U.S. The Muslim world may feel ill at ease with this operation, the paper says, but that is no reason to fall into bin Laden's trap of portraying the war on terrorism as a war between the West and Islam.

THE GUARDIAN:

In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Jonathan Freedland says that the war on terrorism's defining characteristic is that it is a clash not between two armies but between two arguments. The U.S.-led coalition says the conflict pits the world against terrorism. Bin Laden has attempted to frame the battle as Islam versus everyone else. Freedland writes: "London and Washington insist that Arab and Muslim governments accept their view that the object of the current onslaught is the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and no one else. But the people of the Muslim 'street' do not seem to see it that way. For all the reassurances supplied by kings and despots, large sections of their peoples [have] sided with bin Laden. [Accordingly,] they have rioted on his behalf across Pakistan, Indonesia and the Gaza strip."

Muslim leaders, Freedland continues, have not sought to contradict this view of things. He writes: "Neither the ayatollahs of Iran nor the grand muftis of Cairo and Jerusalem have ostracized [bin Laden] from on-high as an enemy of Islam -- there has been no fatwa against him. It's not difficult to understand why few of Islam's most senior clerics have condemned him as a blasphemer. Most of them are tied to governments that are fearful of sparking an Islamist revolt."

Freedland says that bin Laden may have already won the propaganda aspect of the war, for his view of the situation seems to prevail. Freedland writes: "What emerges is a picture of a Muslim world where either vocal and growing minorities idolize bin Laden or governments fear standing against him. Either position confirms the hopelessness of a Western propaganda campaign to isolate him."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)

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