Prague, 20 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at 17 November elections in Kosovo, the prospects for peace in the Middle East, and the lessons from Kosovo for Afghanistan. Other discussion centers more closely on the situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban maintains its grip on the northern city of Kunduz, and renewed cooperation among neighboring Central Asian states in light of the Afghan conflict.
An editorial in the "Financial Times" calls the elections on Saturday, 17 November in Kosovo "a glimmer of light in the prevailing gloom of the Balkans." The vote was carried out peacefully, and moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova won instead of his more radical opponents.
But the paper says the election "could be held only because of the presence of 40,000 NATO-led troops. Without them, inter-ethnic violence would quickly destroy the limited stability created since the end of the 1999 war."
The paper says the persistent problem is the "deep divide over Kosovo's future status. Ethnic Albanians, including Mr. Rugova, seek independence. Serbs want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia. The UN mandate envisages autonomy while preserving a link with Belgrade."
The paper says that Rugova must recognize that this is not the time to push for a final break with Serbia. "Zoran Djindjic's government in Belgrade, which has done much to stabilize Serbia, is not ready to accept the loss of Kosovo." It writes: "In the meantime, Kosovo needs better political and economic conditions. A genuine multi-ethnic entity may be a dream, but more modest gains should be possible -- notably better law and order, supported by the UN's international police. The international community must also accelerate aid disbursement."
The paper concludes, "A final settlement may still be years away."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Wolfgang Gunter Lerch looks at the prospects for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lerch notes that once again, the United States and Europe are trying to help negotiate a settlement. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have said they want to implement the plan drawn up by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. But while implementing the Mitchell plan sounds like a promising strategy, Lerch remarks that, "as is often the case, the devil is in the details, preconditions and expectations."
Lerch writes: "Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants a week without violence before he makes any move. Both his foreign minister and the European Union reject that as 'unrealistic.' Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, has said Brussels would be satisfied if the violence were [to] subside. Meanwhile, Palestinians are asking whether the assassination of Palestinian militants should not be seen as breaking the cease-fire as well."
Lerch concludes, "It remains to be seen whether U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will get any further with his plan than the Europeans did with theirs."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" compares the situation in Kosovo to that of Afghanistan and seeks similarities that may provide clues about how best to approach the task of nation-building in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
The paper writes: "The last time a U.S. bombing campaign liberated a tyrannized people, things ended in [a] mess. U.S.-led NATO forces helped Kosovo's KLA guerrillas [against] their Serbian overlords in 1999. But the KLA proved unreliable partners in peace." Attempts to build a state apparatus have left Kosovo a de facto Western protectorate.
But the paper says that in Afghanistan, as in Kosovo, the U.S. and NATO are right to fill a power vacuum created by war with an international presence. And like Kosovo's KLA, the Afghan Northern Alliance has a dark side that makes partnering with them treacherous.
But Kosovars welcomed foreign mediation. Afghans are "notoriously intolerant of foreign intervention," the paper says. They want to rebuild their own state.
The paper writes: "The big lesson from Kosovo [is] that when fear is removed, [good] things can happen. Perhaps our mission statement for Afghanistan should simply be to help remove the element of fear -- and that includes fear of overweening foreign intervention -- from the lives of the Afghans."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," David Malone of the International Peace Academy says that a concerted international strategy is necessary to bring stability to Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, he says, seems tempted to reassert its international legitimacy, but the Alliance is fragile, and there is a real risk of fighting between its components. Warlords and ethnic leaders are now jockeying for position. As Malone writes, "a broadly representative Afghan government able to exercise administrative authority and prevent factional skirmishing is urgently required."
Malone goes on to say that members of the international antiterrorism coalition "need to be aware of the risks of prolonged and debilitating military engagement in Afghanistan. Having no clear and agreed political or military strategy, they have no plan for, or guarantee of, an exit. The United States itself does not seem to have much of a political strategy for Afghanistan. [Increasingly,] Washington seems to be relying on the United Nations to pull its political irons out of the Afghan fire."
Malone concludes: "Afghanistan has been the graveyard of many foreign designs. A concerted international strategy to buttress UN efforts at political bridge-building is needed urgently."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," columnist Jim Hoagland says that the "effective use of force" in the first phase of the Afghan campaign "points the way toward a muscular multilateralism that could be a dominant feature of international relations in this decade." European nations have actively sought their own involvement in military roles in the Afghan campaign. Hoagland says that in contrast to the 1999 NATO campaign in Kosovo, "where 19 NATO nations coordinated air targeting and argued inconclusively over the use of ground troops, European participation in this war is on a bilateral basis and undertaken under clear U.S. command authority. Europeans have clambered aboard because they correctly sense that the long campaign begun in Afghanistan represents a watershed in alliance management as well as world politics."
After Europe's accusations of U.S. unilateralism and disengagement in world affairs under President George W. Bush, Hoagland says that, with their pledges of providing troops and planes, "nations are voting for an engaged America that is capable of decisive leadership on global security."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Robert McFadden considers talks on establishing an interim government in Afghanistan, set to begin in Europe in a few days' time. Most international leaders are currently in agreement that a broad-based, multi-ethnic government should replace the Taliban.
But McFadden says "formidable questions" still face the conference. He writes: "Beyond the new government's shape is another question: What sort of multinational force, if any, should be sent to Afghanistan to stabilize the country and support the new administration? Britain and France have indicated a willingness to send troops, but resistance to such a force is strong among the Northern Alliance leaders, and even the Bush administration is hesitant."
Still another, more immediate problem, he says, is the Northern Alliance's "reluctance to withdraw its forces from Kabul now, and to let a multinational force take control pending the establishment of a new government." Pashtun Afghans and Pakistan want the Alliance to pull back, McFadden says. But as this debate continues, deploying more international troops has been put on hold "while the rival sides try to sort it all out."
NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" looks at the outcome of parliamentary elections on 17 November in Kosovo. The editorial says that with these elections, both Albanians and Serbs "must at last take responsibility for the future development of the country. Kosovo now has a democratic legitimate leadership. This is not altered by the fact that the authority of the future government is limited." Foreign and defense policy remain in the hands of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The commentary says the results confirmed the local elections of last October, as Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo again won support. Albanian [National Liberation Army] fighters were regarded as heroes in battle against the Serbs, but people soon recognized their weaknesses, the paper says, when they "changed their uniforms for politicians' suits."
The commentary celebrates Rugova as a moderate and says that "if the Serbs are willing to negotiate with anyone, then Rugova is their man." Moreover, "it is an encouraging sign" that roughly 50 percent of Serbs went to the polls. The paper says it seems people are becoming ever more convinced that only cooperation between Serbs and Albanians can improve conditions. The paper writes: "If the Serbs had insisted on sulking and standing aloof, it would have just brought isolation."
In Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Bernhard Kueppers looks at the outcome of the 18 November presidential election in Bulgaria. He says the election resulted in an incongruous combination: While in July's elections the Bulgarian people opted for former monarch Simeon Saxecoburggotski, now, for the first time since the fall of communism, "the election of the red [former communist] Georgi Parvanov means the rejection of the last 'blue' government."
But Kueppers says that the election of a former communist is merely a swing of the pendulum. Parvanov, he writes, was never a prominent communist, and he has tried to model his party on European social-democratic lines. In addition, he notes, Parvanov has claimed to be committed to EU and NATO membership.
In "Eurasia View," Kazakhstan-based journalist Alima Bissenova says that before the 11 September attacks in the United States, many regional experts viewed border disputes as a potential source of conflict in Central Asia. But the new security challenges posed by the attacks, and the ensuing antiterrorism campaign, have prompted regional leaders to focus on cooperation.
During a recent summit, Bissenova says, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Uzbek President Islam Karimov "moved to bolster regional security by settling a long-running border dispute." The 16 November agreement defined 96 percent of their common border, and the two presidents pledged that the remaining border questions would be resolved amicably. In addition to the border issue, "the two leaders discussed water usage, regional security and ways to bolster trade during their summit."
Bissenova says that the Kazakh-Uzbek agreement "sets the stage for broader regional cooperation. Kazakhstan is emerging as Central Asia's economic engine, while Uzbekistan is the region's most populous country and has the largest military establishment. The two states, acting in tandem, are capable of exerting considerable influence on other Central Asian states on a variety of multilateral issues, including border delineation and the joint use of water resources."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)