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Western Press Review: The Campaign In Afghanistan, Renewed Mideast Violence

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 3 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today and over the weekend centers on the continuing campaign in Afghanistan and renewed violence in the Middle East, as three suicide bombings took place in Israel in less than two days and the Israeli army tightens its grip on Palestinian villages and cities. Other topics include renewing transport on the Danube River and setting up firm foundations for Europe.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher says that efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and current attempts to establish a broadly representative government in Afghanistan share some of the same obstacles. He writes: "No matter how loosely connected the two theaters may be, they do have one point in common. All the efforts to achieve a peaceful solution or, more realistically, at least to establish nonviolent coexistence, take place within a vicious circle of material barriers and political and psychological complexes that have taken shape over decades and defy attempts to achieve a breakthrough in one fell swoop."

Nonnenmacher goes on to say that Afghanistan's rivaling tribes and factions would not succeed in creating a new political order on their own. What is motivating them now, he says, is "the prospect of generous material assistance" from the West.

He writes: "The presence of an international security force with a UN mandate will not prevent any of the Afghan leaders from consolidating their hold on territory they regard as their booty, or at least from shielding it from outside influence. Only a massive commitment by the West -- led by the United States as the power exerting the pressure and the United Nations as the legitimating authority at best -- can prevent Afghanistan from falling back into a state of anarchy after the Taliban's defeat."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," the founder of the Open Society Institute, George Soros, says that the United Nations should play the major role in ensuring aid and stability for Afghanistan. Soros says that often, "donors compete to deliver aid in a largely uncoordinated fashion, but they all go through the same recipient government, which can divert the resources for its own purposes. This was the case in Bosnia, where international aid served to feed local fiefdoms and was largely wasted." The situation in Afghanistan, he says, threatens to be even more complex.

Soros writes: "There is only one real alternative: giving charge of the immediate recovery process to the United Nations, which would work closely with an emerging, democratic national government until the government was ready to stand on its own feet." The UN should also play a clearly defined interim role, he says, with its leadership lasting "perhaps a year or two until a newly elected national government was able to take over."

Soros points out that UN development and humanitarian agencies "already have extensive on-the-ground presence in Afghanistan," as well as the "necessary experience, political openness, financial controls and transparent budgeting to coordinate aid effectively and minimize the chances of its being either stolen or misused."

"Such a plan is not perfect," says Soros, "but it is the best way to avoid the pitfalls of the past."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" discusses the possibilities for next week's meeting of European leaders in Laeken, Belgium. The European Union's "efficiency and authority" could be improved in several ways, it says. First on the list is policy reform: "The EU should ask itself if it really adds value" on all the issues that it addresses, the paper suggests.

The paper says that some aspects of national representation in the EU "have become mere symbols of influence, while undermining efficiency. The [European] Commission should ideally have no more than 12 members." And it says the six-month rotating presidency "should be dismantled." The EU should also agree on two or three working languages, says the paper.

The editorial goes on to suggest that the Council of Ministers should "legislate in the open with simpler voting rules," and that national parliaments "must be re-engaged, but at home rather than in Brussels. European integration has greatly increased the power of the executive. This should be balanced with greater scrutiny by national parliaments as well as the European parliament."


A Stratfor analysis looks at the reopening of the Danube River, southeastern Europe's primary trading route. The Danube's reopening will have several important effects, it says. "First, it will promote trade and integration among European Union members and applicants alike. Second, the increased trade traffic will put pressure on the already crowded Turkish straits, prompting Turkey to assert sovereignty over the waterway. Third, to keep shipping costs under control, the European Union will facilitate the construction of alternate shipping infrastructure bypassing those straits."

Stratfor says these circumstances will necessitate "closer cooperation, both economic and political, among the EU states fast-tracked for membership and other powers in the region. Ultimately, that could help smooth the EU expansion process and aid the economies of several riparian states, as well as energy producers in the former Soviet Union," it adds.

"The Danube reopening comes at a fortuitous time," says Stratfor. "The European Union is accelerating expansion efforts, and all of the riparian states are either EU members or potential members. [The] Danube provides an instant avenue for economic integration."

Much of the Western press today is dominated by the weekend's events in the Middle East, following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombing attacks that killed at least 25 people and injured more than 100.


In France's "Liberation," columnist Gerard Dupuy says that if the Palestinian Authority continues with what Dupuy calls its "ambiguous attitude" regarding Palestinian terrorists, this will reaffirm Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's more brutal aims. In addition, it will alienate the "hesitant goodwill" for the Palestinians shown by the U.S. administration in the wake of 11 September.

Dupuy says that since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, there has never been a clear answer to the question of whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat can -- or wants to -- control the sporadic attacks against Israelis. "Maybe he neither wants to nor can," suggests Dupuy, adding: "If [Arafat] understood the emotional value of the September 11 attacks -- one recalls his donation of blood -- he did not appear to grasp the extent of international condemnation of terrorist methods, and the necessity of distancing oneself from them clearly." Dupuy writes that Arafat "gives more the impression of a man who allows himself to be pulled or pushed along by events than that of a leader who claims to influence them."


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" says that after the three attacks In Israel over the weekend, "the scene is now set for another round of the blame game as Israel strikes back. The militant Palestinian group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the bombings, warned in mid-November that it would take revenge for the killing of one of its leaders by Israel, which in turn was retaliating for the assassination of its tourism minister."

"The Guardian" calls on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to take action to end such attacks. "There is no chance of realistic peace negotiations as long as each initiative can be so easily undermined by suicide bombers," it writes. But on the wider front, says the paper, "[I]t is time for Israel to prepare to quit Gaza and the West Bank, the root cause of so much of the violence, and allow the Palestinians finally to establish their own independent state. [By] quitting the West Bank and Gaza, there is at least a chance of peace, of two countries living side by side, more interested in economic development than violence. Pulling out of the West Bank and Gaza would end the main Palestinian cause of grievance against Israel, and lessen the chances of more carnage."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the Palestinian terrorists are, in its words, "carved out of the same wood as the terrorists who undertook the attacks against the U.S. [They] are crazy people who believe they can blow themselves up into Paradise."

The commentary says that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat never took the Oslo peace agreement seriously, and that he has never entirely condemned terrorism. Arafat was not prepared to accept the concessions made by the Israelis a year ago at Camp David, and, now that U.S. President George W. Bush is calling for a settlement, Arafat is again reluctant.

The editorial says that although the Israelis have the right to respond to such terrorist attacks, Sharon's policies should not be condoned. Policy should be defensive and retaliation does not mitigate the conflict. Blockades and collective punishment is just forcing people to resort increasingly to terrorism, it says. The commentary ends by suggesting that Arafat and Sharon promote a Palestinian compromise. "But while they are laboring under the deluge of assassinations," the paper says, "such reason is a rare commodity."


In "Die Welt," Jacques Schuster says that Yasser Arafat has made little effort to prevent violence against Israel. Israelis, the writer argues, have no desire to occupy the autonomous Palestinian land, having learned their lesson from the first intifada. Now, he writes, all Israelis want is an assurance of security.

Unless Arafat now gives such guarantees to prevent further terror and implements a durable cease-fire, there will be no more talks. One can only hope, Schuster concludes, that Arafat will not miss out on what he calls this last chance.


In "Handelsblatt," Jens Muenchrath says that "politics is bidding farewell to the Middle East: a creeping war is threatening to become a full-blown one." Muenchrath writes that "what seemed at first sight to be an escalation of force in the Middle East can, under the current circumstances, progress from an initial step toward a fatal development in the entire region, which nobody wants except terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his followers. Who is going to restrain [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon from launching an even more massive attack against the Palestinians, possibly to sweep off the political map the entire autonomous state and send its boss into exile?" He adds: "Ex-general [Sharon] has the military power and the support of his people" to do so.


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" on 1 December says the starvation and disease facing Afghan refugees is not just a humanitarian issue, but also a political one. The editorial writes: "The need for relief is urgent particularly in the north, where drought has ravaged the countryside. Up to 7.5 million Afghans in a population of 25 million are at risk from starvation, tuberculosis, parasites and malaria. Refugees on the move and in temporary camps are in the worst shape. The U.S. and its allies, however, are bickering over aid. The U.S. has delayed deploying allied troops to protect aid shipments out of concern that anything other than airdrops might interfere with its military operations. But humanitarian aid is not a sideshow; it is an intimate part of creating a stable Afghanistan," says the paper.

It continues: "Even before the United States launched its struggle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, civil war and a four-year-long drought had uprooted millions in Afghanistan. Bombing strikes and the fragmentation of power have considerably worsened matters." Aid needs to be transported by land, and it requires protection, says the paper, adding that Russia's troops, sent for humanitarian purposes, and U.S. troops should be able to safeguard land routes. But the paper says that, ultimately, only the UN "has the resources and staff to stave off a huge humanitarian disaster."


A Stratfor analysis says the campaign against terrorism may undermine efforts in Europe and the United States to combat illegal drug smuggling. Stratfor says that opium production is "once again flourishing in Afghanistan" following the defeat of the Taliban by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces. The Taliban's July 2000 ban on poppy cultivation resulted in a 96 percent drop in opium production, Stratfor notes, citing UN statistics. But the country's drug trade is now fully back in the hands of the Northern Alliance, which uses the profits to fund its militia. By toppling the Taliban, Stratfor says, the campaign against terrorism has also "removed the only prohibitions against opium cultivation in Afghanistan that reduced drug production."

Stratfor says Northern Alliance warlords may increase drug trafficking through their Central Asian antiterrorism allies to the north, directly into Russia. It writes: "Organized criminal gangs in Tajikistan and other Central Asian states are thought to work closely with the Russian mafia. The enrichment of the mafia through a rise in Afghanistan's heroin trade will create a host of law enforcement problems for Moscow."

The shift in trafficking patterns will lead to an increase in gangs and corruption not only in Russia and the saturated European markets, concludes Stratfor, but as far away as the United States.


A news analysis in "The Washington Post" by Peter Baker and Alan Sipress looks at reports of the forced return of refugees to Afghanistan, as well as the obstacles faced by international relief efforts. The authors say thousands of refugees have been forcibly returned to Afghanistan from Iran and hundreds from Pakistan, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Relief agencies are being shut out of certain regions due to a lack of security.

Baker and Sipress write: "Banditry and general disorder continued to hobble relief efforts in Mazar-i-Sharif, as well as in Kondoz, the last Taliban city to fall in the north. There, the offices and warehouse of the International Organization for Migration remain occupied by Northern Alliance forces, and all of the organization's operations have been suspended." They say that some aid workers "had hoped international peacekeeping troops could help provide security for relief convoys, but U.S. military officials have delayed their approval of such a force because of the continuing military operations against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network."

The writers say that Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International, has written to U.S. President Bush to warn that "lawlessness is jeopardizing crucial aid shipments." They quote Bacon as saying, "The U.S. and its allies cannot afford to win the military battle and lose the humanitarian campaign. [We] have the ability to triumph on both fronts, and we must."

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