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Western Press Review: The Afghan Loya Jirga, Trade Versus Aid, 'Golden' Shares And EU Competition

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 6 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed by commentators in the Western media today are the European Court of Justice's rejection this week of so-called "golden" shares, renewed UN inspections or U.S. military action in Iraq, global warming, Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, the benefits of trade versus aid for the Third World, the Middle East conflict, and continuing nuclear tensions on the subcontinent.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today lauds the decision this week by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to reject the allocation of "golden" shares, which allow governments to block the takeover of companies that they consider too valuable, or too sensitive, to "fall into foreign hands." Such shares usually grant the government "a blocking vote on mergers and other strategic decisions." But the editorial says while the shares are defended "in the name of national security, they are almost always a way to restrict competition." The paper calls the court's decision a surprising "step toward freer markets."

The "Journal" says the ECJ was absolutely clear in its ruling that, as the court said, "all restrictions on the movement of capital between member states and third countries" are illegal. The paper says this decision "reflects the promise of the European Union at its best, encouraging the free movement of people, goods, and capital. It's also a sign that Europe is moving, albeit slowly, in a pro-growth direction, while a U.S. preoccupied with [scandal-plagued energy giant] Enron moves the other way." Maybe, the editorial muses, "that helps explain the dollar's recent weakness against the euro."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" advises that it is unwise for the U.S. to consider any "pre-emptive" action against Iraq before pushing first for renewed UN inspections of its weapons facilities. The paper says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "needs a policy on Iraq more detailed than intense dislike of its dictator, Saddam Hussein. The place for that policy to start is not with toppling Hussein, at least not until there's a much better picture of what that would entail and what kind of regime would succeed him."

The editorial suggests beginning by insisting that UN weapons inspectors be readmitted by the end of summer and freely allowed to carry out their mission. Even U.S. allies that are skeptical about a regime change in Iraq "can get behind an inspection demand," it says.

"If the Security Council insists that Iraq stop stalling, Hussein has the choice of living without weapons of mass destruction -- or risking his life in a war trying to keep them." Hussein should not be allowed "to keep developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction," the paper says.

Intelligence reports that he is in fact doing this are more believable based on Baghdad's refusal to admit UN inspectors. "If the door stays barred," says the "Los Angeles Times," "Washington will have more support from its allies in Europe and elsewhere for other options."


Columnist Bob Herbert writes in "The New York Times" of the U.S. administration's report on global warming, compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency and released this week. The Bush administration has now acknowledged "that the U.S. will experience far-reaching and, in some cases, devastating environmental consequences as a result of global warming." These include rising seas, storm surges, heat waves, and the entire disappearance of some ecosystems. But in spite of the results of its own report on climate change, Herbert notes that the Bush administration "does not plan to do much about it."

He says the Bush administration's policy "has been so poor when it comes to climate change" that the mere acknowledgement that far-reaching effects are in store "was initially seen as some sort of progress. It was thought, momentarily, that the president might be starting to pull his head out of the increasingly hot sand on this issue."

But Herbert says the recognition that global temperatures are rising and that human activity -- specifically, the burning of fossil fuels -- is primarily responsible was "no more than a statement of the obvious for most reputable scientists." He notes that Bush quickly backtracked on this issue when his conservative supporters criticized his new stance. Bush then "assured one and all that he had no plans to lead any assault on global warming [and] was coldly dismissive of the interagency effort."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the latest Palestinian suicide car-bomb attack on a bus in northern Israel, to which the Israelis retaliated by storming and shelling Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The paper says that "this demonstrates in an alarming fashion that only idealists can hope for negotiations to settle the Middle East conflict," considering the ever more ingenious and diabolical use of weapons against civilians -- first a woman suicide bomber, now explosives in a car.

Considering this backdrop a Middle East conference is being planned under "an unlucky star." This is an asymmetric war between a classic army supported by Israeli hawks, and Palestinian guerrillas, in which there will be no victors, only victims.

Every new act of terrorism demonstrates more clearly that some Palestinians are launching out on their own. Taking this into consideration, the Israelis must be granted the right to protect their security. It is obvious that this latest attack has proved to be yet another disservice to the Palestinian cause.


"The Washington Times" carries a piece by its editor at large, Arnaud de Borchgrave, who discusses the difficulties faced by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf regarding ongoing tensions with India. In the "forbidding, mountainous" areas to the west, the U.S. has been pressuring Musharraf to hunt down the Al-Qaeda and Taliban members he once supported. To his east, de Borchgrave says, the U.S. and India demand that Musharraf "rein in the Kashmiri terrorists he once trained and called, until recently, freedom fighters."

Internally, Musharraf is also being pulled in two different directions. His military officers advise him "not to waste military assets chasing a handful of Al-Qaeda holdouts through ravines and crevasses between 10,000-foot peaks." They argue that "all available forces are needed to face a menacing India along the Line of Control," which separates Pakistan-controlled Kashmir from Indian Kashmir.

"It has become increasingly clear in recent days that Pakistani extremists want a military confrontation between India and Pakistan that they reckon would be short-lived and end with a Pakistani defeat. This, in turn, would enable the fundamentalist extremists to topple Mr. Musharraf from power."

India and Pakistan must "rise above history," he writes, and reconsider the 1948 agreement by the UN Security Council to hold a plebiscite on the future of Kashmir. Objections to Kashmiri self-determination are "hardly worth a nuclear showdown that could kill several million human beings," he says.


A contribution to "Eurasia View" by journalist Halima Kazem discusses Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand council, set to begin on 10 June. She notes that this is one of the first times Afghans can actively participate in their government. But she says while this "may mark a step in Afghanistan's evolution," it may also put a strain on Afghanistan's security. "Planners also have to consider how to make the Loya Jirga fair and accessible to the country's largely illiterate population, and keep it from becoming a platform for tribal, political, and ethnic violence," says Kazem.

The Special Independent Commission for Convening an Emergency Loya Jirga has been making plans since January, and is trying to create "an inclusive, legitimate, and expedient council" by 22 June, when the interim Afghan administration loses authority. Since not all 1,501 delegates will be able to speak, delegates will submit their ideas to the secretariat and representatives will be chosen for certain topics. "The concern this raises is that delegates who don't understand the system will find their ideas ignored -- and will be disappointed when they do not get the chance to speak."

But whatever the misgivings, Kazem says authorities seem "intent" on using this Loya Jirga as a blueprint. By the time of the Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled for 2003, Afghanistan's progress toward stability will be clearer, she says. By then, it should also be an easier matter "to accommodate such a large number of delegates in Kabul."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute discusses U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's recent tour through Africa with Bono, front man of the Irish rock group U2. Sachs describes Africa's poverty as one that "is like no other in the world today. It is poverty that kills, and kills in mass numbers."

He notes that the unlikely traveling duo disagreed over the importance of foreign aid, but says that, ironically, "Bono has run the numbers while [O'Neill's] Treasury has not." When the U.S. administration and Treasury Secretary O'Neill "finally do their homework, they will reach the same conclusion as Bono." Sachs says a country like the United States must "be ready to offer billions more in help for a continent struggling for its very survival."

But Sachs notes that O'Neill insists that "it's trade, not aid" that will truly help Africa. But as Sachs puts it, "Sadly, the real U.S. position is 'It's trade, not aid -- and by the way, we won't trade.'" He says the U.S. preaches free trade, but "[destroys] potential African exports through quotas on textiles and apparel, as well as $180 billion in newly passed subsidies for [U.S.] farmers. He says the real answer is that Africa "needs both trade and aid -- trade to promote private investment, and aid to fight disease, provide clean water, and ensure universal education, all of which are necessary for growth."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" today discusses several U.S. institutions and says the strength of American democracy rests largely in its internal balances of power. The legislative branch of Congress, for example, does not hesitate to seize any chance to embarrass the presidency, the paper says.

Likewise, says "Le Monde," the bankruptcy of U.S. energy giant Enron has prompted 11 congressional inquiries, although the paper notes that as recipients of campaign contributions from Enron employees, members of Congress could not remain passive on this issue without seeming to be accommodating their campaign benefactors. But U.S. President Bush, whom the paper calls "the main beneficiary of Enron's electoral generosity," also began a judicial inquiry on the firm's dealings.

In the case of 11 September, says "Le Monde," initial resistance eventually gave way and the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to talk about what went wrong within their organizations in the weeks leading up to the attacks. "They have revealed the gravity of the negligence which, if not allowed, at least facilitated the actions of the terrorists," the paper writes.

"Le Monde" concludes that every institutional power eventually obtained from the others the necessary clarifications from which they had tried, at first, to shy away. The "balance of power is one of the keys of democracy," the paper says.

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