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Western Press Review: Afghan Regional Stability, Mideast Nations, And Antiterror Campaign

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 26 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press continues to focus on events in Afghanistan, as the U.S.-led military campaign proceeds unabated. Central to the Afghan issue is debate over what form of government will best serve the country if or when the Taliban is toppled. Other topics include the European Central Bank's decision yesterday not to cut interest rates; Iraq and Iran's respective roles regarding terrorism issues; Georgia's Abkhazia region; and the Middle East conflict.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher examines the difficulties tha world leaders will face while attempting to stabilize a post-war Afghanistan. He notes that both French and German leaders recently said that Europe should play what they called a "visible role" in Afghanistan. Nonnenmacher writes: "[The] plans that European leaders are cooking up seem somewhat premature, however. We learned only recently that Afghanistan is inhabited by an assortment of peoples and tribes who have spent the last 20 years disagreeing on a political regime, fighting with and against one another in changing coalitions. Now, all at once, a transitional government is supposed to be possible that will establish sufficient order in this shattered country for the European Union to provide humanitarian aid, to remove land mines and to promote the economy."

Hard as it may be for Europeans to accept, he says, the United States is in a better position to ensure stability in the region -- although a greater European role may include civil or military assistance in the future. Nonnenmacher writes that when the time comes, "both should be made available to the desired extent -- out of European self-interest, and not out of some vainglorious, prestige-seeking desire to be 'visible' in the Hindu Kush Mountains."


In "The Boston Globe," staff writer Joan Vennochi writes: "Bring back the old Cold War." The old war had a clear enemy, she says. For the West, that enemy was communism and the Soviet Union. Today, Vennochi writes, we have religious extremists and mysterious "cave-dwelling 'evil-doers,' " as U.S. President George W. Bush once referred to Osama bin Laden.

The Cold War had nuclear weapons as its central focus, but the reality of this threat never got closer than the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. This new war, Vennochi says, is already doing what the old one couldn't -- attacking victims on their own soil, through networks as familiar as the mail or as routine as a domestic airline flight.

Vennochi writes: "In the old Cold War, the average citizen had some faith the government had the information it needed to contain the conflict through diplomatic channels and, if necessary, through military response." She goes on to note that leaders during the Cold War used "rational choice" scenarios. No one really wanted to destroy the world, she says. But a new way of thinking may be emerging, one in which it may be a mistake to assume people will make so-called "rational" choices. Vennochi writes: "[What] if the individuals waging a new culturally based war want to destroy us and are willing to destroy themselves in the process?"


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," commentator Benedikt Fehr considers the European Central Bank's decision on 25 October to leave its refinancing rate at 3.75 percent, despite what Fehr calls "more or less undisguised calls for a rate cut from politicians across the spectrum." He adds, "As usual, [the bank] did not explain its decision."

Fehr says that the ECB Governing Council's decision not to lower rates "was presumably prompted by a desire to demonstrate resistance to political pressure. There is something to be said for this, with politicians in some neighboring countries still occasionally behaving as if the central bank were an extension of their finance ministries, but the ECB must not let this dispute, fundamental as it undoubtedly is to the institution, cause it to neglect the necessities of day-to-day politics."

Fehr concludes that in view of the economic slowdown, such necessities may prompt the ECB to reconsider a rate cut at one of its next meetings.


In "Eurasia View," reporter Afshin Molavi examines the antiterrorism coalition's attempts to gain Iranian support in persuading the Northern Alliance not to take over Afghanistan before a broad-based coalition government can be formed. Molavi notes that since the Taliban came to power, Iran has aided the opposition alliance with arms and intelligence; Iranian representatives also meet regularly with Northern Alliance commanders.

Molavi considers what incentive the antiterrorism coalition could give Iran to persuade their alliance allies not to take power unilaterally in the country. He writes: "Any meaningful incentives for Iranian cooperation would have to come from the United States since the European Union [already] has strong commercial ties with Iran." Possible agreements, he says, could include "a lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran, the withdrawal of U.S. opposition to Caspian Sea pipelines traversing Iran and an end to U.S. attempts to isolate Iran internationally. Iran would also like to see a greater level of internationalization in the anti-terrorism effort. Iran [has] repeatedly demanded a UN-backed solution."

Molavi says that unless the United States is willing to offer Tehran some inducement, "Iran will likely retain a stance of benign neutrality on the issue of reining in the Northern Alliance."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that, in light of the ongoing anthrax scare in the United States, the U.S. administration "needs to address two intertwined questions: Where did the anthrax come from that appears to have been milled to float in the air? And is Saddam Hussein an unindicted co-conspirator with Osama bin Laden in the terrorist war being waged against the United States?"

Until now, U.S. officials have downplayed the possibility of Iraqi involvement in the attacks on the United States or the country's possible links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. But the editorial says there has been a "history of contacts between Iraqi intelligence officers and operatives or leaders of Al-Qaeda." It also notes that there have been recent reports of training camps outside of Baghdad, where Iraqis and Islamist foreigners "received training in hijacking techniques."

The paper says that "every effort should be made" to investigate the possible connections. The editorial concludes that "few things could be more relevant" to U.S. security than for the government to determine if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime is hidden behind bin Laden's network.


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" carries an editorial considering the difficulties that lie ahead, after the war in Afghanistan. Thus far, the war is not proceeding according to plan, it says, as the U.S. has not yet succeeded in overpowering the Taliban. Nevertheless, it is right and important to consider the future.

In this connection, says the editorial, German politicians must be on their guard to ensure that U.S. considerations of the aftermath of the war do not lead to a problematic division of labor, such as: "We [the U.S.] will do the bombing and throw food packages until we capture Osama bin Laden; you will participate in the UN peacekeeping afterwards and will build a new political structure."

This won't do, says the commentary, while adding that this is not a matter of trust but is based on experience. The U.S. has far too often acted on behalf of the UN like a surgeon, it says, without dealing with the convalescent aftermath. Granted, it adds, the Balkans -- from a geopolitical point of view -- is a matter to be dealt with by Europeans. But it says this argument does not apply to post-war Afghanistan, where the U.S. will have to cooperate in what will be a thankless and far more long-term project than the actual war.


A piece in this week's "The Economist" looks at the wide-ranging diplomatic shifts that have taken place around the world since the attacks of 11 September. Those events changed the way all nations think about foreign policy, it says.

The weekly writes: "[The] spotlight on terrorism has seemed to change the terms of just about every conflict, from Northern Ireland to Macedonia and Kashmir. Even countries long hostile to America have been quietly recalculating the costs and benefits of trying for a new diplomatic breakthrough."

The magazine says that U.S. President George W. Bush himself has spoken of the "interesting opportunities" the antiterrorism campaign affords: "to end the chronic instability that Afghanistan has brought to all of Central Asia; to warm frost-bitten relations between India and Pakistan; to stop the cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.... [As] this month's dangerous flare-ups in disputed Kashmir and between Israel and the Palestinians show, some problems will be harder to work on than others. But progress in any of them could bring [widespread] benefits."

"The Economist" continues: "As Mr. Bush's weekend talks in Shanghai with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and China's Jiang Zemin showed, there are now broader opportunities: to refashion relations with Russia; to strike up a more constructive dialogue with prickly China; and as a result to rebalance responsibilities around the world with allies in Europe and Asia."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," commentator Baudouin Loos looks at international attempts to broker a lasting peace in the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Loos notes that it has long been anticipated that only international intervention can end the conflict. But the United States, he says, is the only intermediary Israel considers valid.

Loos says that for its part, there are three things at stake for Washington: "In the short term, the health of the antiterrorism coalition depends on the participation of the Arab-Muslim world; in the medium term, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority that could follow from Israeli military operations risks pulling the region into chaos; [and] finally," says Loos, "in the longer term, the Americans have undoubtedly understood what everyone has been trying to explain to them since 11 September: the injustices in the region for which they are partially responsible -- for example, those suffered by the Palestinian people -- feed resentment and lead, as has been [seen], to the most barbaric behavior."

Loos says the creation of a Palestinian state has been much talked about -- by Bush, by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Even Israeli public opinion seems accepting of the possibility. But given the recent Israeli offensive, says Loos, "Never has the situation seemed less [auspicious] to its creation."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," regional analyst Vladimir Socor considers Georgia's strategic importance. Socor notes that Georgia is located in a key transit area for Western forces reaching Afghanistan. But beyond that immediate role, he says, "Georgia is the linchpin to all the Western projects for the transit of Caspian oil and gas and the Europe-Central Asia transport corridor. Because of its location, Georgia is the one country whose destabilization would pull the rug from under all those projects, which Russia alone opposes as an intrusion into its sphere."

Moscow has attempted to regain control over Georgia by maintaining instability in areas such as the Abkhaz autonomous region of Georgia, says Socor. He writes: "Today, it's clearer than ever that Russia's manipulation of the Abkhazia problem threatens not only the Georgian state. It increasingly impinges on Western interests in the Caspian-Caucasus region."

Russia has maintained peacekeeping troops in the region since its secession. And Socor says Georgia's strategic importance and Russia's dubious interests in the region "underscore the need to internationalize Russia's 'peacekeeping' operation in Abkhazia. [Georgia] is currently redoubling efforts toward internationalizing the peacekeeping operation."

Socor writes: "Only then will it be possible to effect a political solution on the basis of a federal status for Abkhazia within Georgia, and thus promote lasting stability for a linchpin state."

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