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Western Press Review: Divergent Interests Within Antiterrorism Coalition

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 17 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries in the Western press today look at the numerous shaky alliances that make up the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. Some commentators say coalition members may have more differences than common interests. Others question how long any sense of cohesion in thought and deed will prevail.


"Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that the goal of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent visit to Pakistan was to "cultivate and soothe" a key ally as well as to "sharpen the contours of plans for Afghanistan's post-war order." In order to do both, Frankenberger says, Powell assured Pakistan -- formerly a Taliban ally -- that moderates from the Taliban could be included in a future Afghan government.

Frankenberger says Powell's assurance reveals "the pragmatic realities of an alliance driven by expediency, an alliance whose partners' political interests dovetail only partially." Pakistan does not want the Taliban permanently weakened, he says, but if it remains a viable force, it will continue to obstruct the aim of dismantling the worldwide terrorist network.

As he puts it: "The Taliban regime's continued existence is not a serious alternative. [Only] an Afghanistan that does not act as an operations center for terrorism has a future. Certainly, a possible future government ought to represent the interests of all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, including the Pashtun from whom the Taliban recruited most of its adherents. But [there] is no indication [where] moderate Taliban followers are to be found." The Northern Alliance opposition, Frankenberger adds, doesn't make the situation any easier. He says: "Its soldiers have not stood out as noble warriors either."


In Britain's "The Independent," columnist Robert Fisk says that promises made to secure alliances in wartime often are not kept. He lists numerous historical examples of pledges made by the West to ensure temporary strategic cooperation that were later broken when they were no longer expedient. He writes: "By the Second World War, we were promising the Lebanese independence from the French if they turned against [the Vichy]. Then the French broke their promise and tried to stay on. [Then-U.S. President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt -- anxious to secure Saudi oil rights from the British as the war came to an end -- promised the Saudi monarchy that he would not allow the Palestinians to be dispossessed." And by 1990, he adds, "[the West] wanted the Arab and Muslim world on our side against Iraq." Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush promised a solution to the Middle East conflict to secure this support, but, Fisk notes, "Once the Iraqis were driven out, [we] called a short-lived 'Middle East' summit in Madrid and then sold more missiles, tanks and jet fighters to the Arabs and Israelis than in the preceding 30 years."

The current scramble to build an antiterrorism coalition, Fisk continues, is a case of "here we go again." To secure the support of key allies, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell promises both archrivals India and Pakistan a solution in Kashmir, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair hosts Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to discuss a Palestinian state. Fisk characterizes these as more "quick-fix promises to vulnerable allies of convenience after years of accepting, even creating, the injustices of the Middle East and South-west [Asia]."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," an editorial considers the numerous anti-war demonstrations that have taken place around the world since the 7 October launch of the U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan. The editorial notes that the peace protests have been more frequent and more vocal in Europe than in the U.S. The paper writes: "Barely a week into the fighting, it is difficult to gauge whether the anti-war camp is just a weak echo of the giant protest movements of the 1960s, '70s and ['80s] -- or a harbinger of more vociferous protests to come. By large margins, most Europeans appear to support U.S. actions to date. But it is unclear how deep that support goes, and how it will stand up as casualties mount, accidents happen and the months drag on."

What is clear, the paper continues, "is that the self-described 'peace camp' in Europe is far stronger than it is in the U.S., and that it does have influence on the conduct of government policy." The paper suggests that this may stem from the idea that this is not Europe's war, no matter how strident European leaders' pledges of support for the U.S. In addition, it writes, Europe has "a deep-seated pacifist tradition, partly rooted in Europe's historical circumstances. Then too, Europe has shown itself more willing to accommodate terrorism -- in the Basque country, in Northern Ireland -- than to wage all-out war against it."


Von Wolfram Weimer, writing in "Die Welt," says German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is under the illusion that he is preparing his country for war. But Weimer says the war is already in progress and writes: "Just as the mass murders in New York, the anthrax attacks and Islamic hatred apply to the entire Western world, so equally must the response come from all freedom- and peace-loving states." Weimer says the war will not begin when German troops join, nor did it begin with the launch of the U.S.-led bombing campaign. War was declared on 11 September, and nobody was given a choice. He continues: "Each war is a bitter defeat of civilization. But vice versa, a permanent defeat for civilization means war. Since terrorists have not given us the choice between war and peace, there is only the choice between greater and smaller evils."


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Jonathan Freedland says that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important issue that must be resolved, it does not -- as many claim -- lie at the heart of the Middle East's troubles. He writes: "[For] Muslims around the world to see this dispute as the central question in their lives makes no sense at all. [A] new border between Israel and Palestine is essential for those two nations, but how will it stop the Muslims of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia living under brutal, repressive regimes? [The] Palestinian-Israeli conflict affects Palestinians and Israelis profoundly, but it does not begin to explain [why the Middle East] has spent decades languishing in economic stagnation and political suffocation. The Saudi royal family does not behead criminals because of Israel; Syria did not slaughter thousands of its own people in 1982 because of Israel."

Freedland says that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been used as a "diversionary tactic" by some of the Middle East's most oppressive regimes to take the focus away from their own injustices and place it outside their own borders, on a conflict nations away. He concludes that Israel should be pressured for a just settlement -- "two secure states, sharing Jerusalem as their capital." But Freedland says it is a "dangerous delusion" to imagine such a breakthrough will address the political and economic problems that the Middle East as a whole is faced with. "That is a task that will take decades," he writes. "There are no magic shortcuts, not even via the holy land."


In a piece published in the "Los Angeles Times," columnist Robert Scheer writes that the evidence is "overwhelming" that it is Saudi Arabia, more than the Afghans, who are really responsible for the emergence of a militant and violent version of Islam.

He says that it is already clear that Saudi money has funded terrorists and that the Saudi government has not cooperated fully in investigating these links. Scheer writes: "Perhaps that's why the Bush administration rejects the Taliban's demand for proof that Bin Laden is behind the recent terror, a normal response to an extradition request. Have we refused to supply that evidence [because] what we have learned about the international financing of Al-Qaeda is too embarrassing to the Saudis?"

Nor does the U.S. have "clean hands," he continues: "The terror trees that sprouted [in] Afghanistan were a foreign implant created and nourished by the United States and Saudi Arabia as by-products of the Cold War. Religion was our weapon in the Cold War, and the militant Wahhabi brand of Islam, the predominant sect in Saudi Arabia, became our most trustworthy sword."

For generations, he says, the Saudi elite has maintained what he calls "an absurd stance" in which the extraordinarily rich retain their sense of virtue by encouraging the poor masses to follow a puritanical brand of religion. Scheer writes: "For that reason it is hypocritical in the extreme for the U.S. to be bombing the impoverished masses of Afghanistan, who have suffered for so many years from Saudi manipulation, while letting off scot-free the oil sheiks who created this mess."


Columnist Gerard Dupuy, writing in France's "Le Monde," says that the military campaign in Afghanistan is a particularly difficult aspect of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. But he says that at the same time, the United States has inherited two of the most difficult conflicts following the second world war, both far from Kabul -- the Middle East and Kashmir. He writes: "Each of the two great Muslim 'allies' of the United States have a proper interest in each of these conflicts, the Saudis with Palestine, and Pakistan with [Kashmir]."

On the other side of the divide, he continues, two other countries "also have the means to be heard by the United States: Israel, its privileged ally, and India, an irreplaceable counterweight" to China. Paraphrasing the well-known saying, Dupuy says that the U.S. thus faces a cruel dilemma: "What to do when the enemies of my friends are also my friends?" The U.S., he concludes, has been called upon to solve problems that are well renowned as unsolvable.


In "Eurasia View," Central Asian affairs analyst Antoine Blua considers U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Shanghai tomorrow, and says that the antiterrorism campaign has provided an opening for improved U.S.-China relations. Blua writes: "China has expressed concern about the potential growth of Islamic radicalism in its western province of Xinjiang, and has sought to accommodate U.S. anti-terrorism objectives since the September 11 tragedy. [Despite] China's longstanding opposition to armed intervention, [Chinese leader] Jiang [Zemin] expressed support for retaliatory raids against Afghanistan. It marked the first time since the Cold War that China had condoned U.S. military action against another country."

Blua says that in Beijing, the hope is that the emergence of a new U.S. "enemy" will reduce anti-Chinese sentiment in Washington. The incident in April involving the downing of a U.S. reconnaissance plane by Chinese fighter jets, as well as the Bush administration's proposals for a missile defense system, have recently strained relations. And tensions still exist over China's desire to limit any U.S. military presence in Central and South Asia, as well as U.S. criticism of China's policies on Tibet and Taiwan. But for now, the antiterrorism campaign has given these two nations some common ground to work with at their summit with Asia-Pacific leaders tomorrow.

(Dora Slaba contributed to this press review.)