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Western Press Review: The Loya Jirga, Redressing Benes Decrees, And War On Terrorism

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed today in news analyses and commentary in the Western press are Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand council, as more than 1,500 delegates enter a second day of meetings in Kabul to select a transitional government; the lasting political implications of the Benes decrees in the Czech Republic; the weaknesses of the U.S. antiterrorism strategy; and scaling back tensions between India and Pakistan.


A "Washington Post" editorial today looks at the Loya Jirga grand council meeting in Afghanistan, as approximately 1,500 delegates meet for a second day to decide on a two-year transitional Afghan government. But the editorial points out that several warlords and their supporters are taking part in the Loya Jirga as delegates, "including several particularly brutal leaders who could never be reconciled to a strong or politically moderate central government."

Nevertheless, says the paper, those within the Bush administration "spin this as progress," saying the fact that warlords are participating "will add legitimacy and strength to a new administration" when it takes over at the end of the month. This "may be true in some cases," the paper writes, but "mostly, [it] makes a virtue of a necessity that could have been mitigated."

The paper writes: "The failure of the United States to aggressively build the foundations of an Afghan peace in the past six months has lengthened the odds against the Loya Jirga's producing an administration capable of governing for the 18 months to two years foreseen in the United Nations' plans. If one nevertheless emerges, it will be a testimony to a longing for peace among Afghans that deserves greater support."


Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the role of former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah in a future Afghan government. Shah has lived in exile in Italy since 1973, when he was dethroned by his nephew in a bloodless coup. The paper says that he has had no interest in a political comeback.

"No way does he want to become the president of a republic," the paper writes, "even if the current Loya Jirga, as the representative of the people, offers him the position." The German daily says the ex-king's stance is "highly commendable." But on the other hand, it says, his views are not conclusive. The 87-year-old former monarch is not an independent player. He is merely a figurehead "managed by others."

For the Pashtuns, after the defeat of the Taliban, the king's return was important, as he represented unity for the country. But the other ethnic groups, especially the Tajiks, want to forestall the ascent of any authority that might exclude them from power. Now, the leaders of the two most important nationalities have struck a bargain: The Pashtun king will fade into oblivion and the Tajiks will take up positions as prominent ministers.

"The king has been sacrificed -- that is democracy the Afghan way," the paper writes. It says this trade-off benefits both the Pashtuns and the Tajiks, as well as peace in Afghanistan. The only remaining question, the commentary remarks, is whether all the Afghan players are willing to accept this outcome.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Jiri Pehe of New York University in Prague discusses the post-war Benes decrees, which provided for the confiscation of property from Germans living in the Czech Sudetenland and allowed for their forced expulsion from then-Czechoslovakia.

The decrees have recently resurfaced as a hot political topic in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria, and Pehe says it is probably inevitable, "with the [European Union] on the cusp of a far-reaching enlargement, that these outstanding issues from the past will continue to hit raw nerves."

Pehe questions what can be done to redress this post-war injustice, as the Czech Republic cannot return the confiscated property to Sudeten Germans. Such a step, he says, "would cause great economic turmoil in the country...[taking] them away from their current owners [would] simply bring more injustice."

He suggests the Czechs could apologize for, as he puts it, "indiscriminately applying the principle of collective guilt" for German actions during the war. And the decrees could be declared officially invalid, while making it clear that the Czech Republic cannot invalidate them retroactively for legal, economic, and political reasons.

The Czechs and the Sudeten Germans "will most likely live under a common European roof in less than two years," writes Pehe. "Symbolic gestures and a dialogue between them now could alleviate fears of what will happen when the borders that separate them disappear in 2004."


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" says the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush may be undermining its own cause with its misguided policies in the war on terrorism. The paper says the administration "may be doing more to terrify American citizens than the Al-Qaeda terrorists."

Attorney General John Ashcroft's assertions on 10 June about a plot involving a radioactive "dirty bomb" especially require "close scrutiny," the paper says. The administration charges Abdullah Al-Muhajir with involvement in the planning of an attack; others within the administration say he merely took part in "discussions" of a possible attack.

The paper asks, "Is Mr. Al-Muhajir to be charged therefore with the hitherto unfamiliar offense of talking?" Ashcroft and the rest of the administration, "by denying Mr. Al-Muhajir legal counsel and a public hearing and by locking him up indefinitely," have ensured that many questions will not be answered. "This they do in the name of national security," the paper writes. "Yet by this and similar actions they undermine their cause, boost Al-Qaeda's credibility, scandalize the U.S. constitution, and intensify the anxiety all Americans share about possible repeat attacks."

What is needed now is less panic in Washington and more "fortitude and calm resolve." The paper concludes that the U.S. administration must lead by "respecting and building on America's democratic strengths, not emphasizing America's vulnerability to justify the undercutting of its traditions."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that tensions between India and Pakistan over recent attacks on Indian forces in the long-disputed region of Kashmir are receding. "Yet with a million troops still poised on either side of the border and the two countries as far apart as ever in their views on Kashmir, the crisis is scarcely over," the paper adds.

The paper says both sides must take concrete action to satisfy the concerns of their subcontinent neighbor. "In the coming weeks, Pakistan will have to take further steps to demonstrate that it has permanently cut off support for Kashmir-related terrorism. India has to understand that peace also depends on responding to the political discontents of Kashmir's Muslim majority."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in the region yesterday as part of an American attempt to defuse the ongoing hostilities. The paper says Rumsfeld "must persuade Pakistan to seal its side of the Line of Control, empty terrorist camps on its territory and close staging areas and infiltration routes. [Once] India is satisfied that Pakistan has acted, it should begin pulling back troops from the border. The large military presence on both sides increases the risk of a conflict starting by accident," says the editorial.

In the longer term, the paper says, political reform is necessary to permanently ease tensions in the region. New Delhi must see to it "that the elections to be held in Kashmir later this year are more honestly conducted than the previous round, and must live up to the promises of autonomy the state is entitled to under India's Constitution."

In addition, it says, "Military repression of Kashmir's civilian population should end."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," commenting on the latest developments in Kabul, says at last the long-awaited Loya Jirga has convened on a grand scale amid former King Zahir Shah's expression of his wish to see current interim-administration chief Hamid Karzai lead the next temporary government until democratic elections are held in 2004.

Now, says the paper, Afghanistan has the chance of a stable government after 23 years of war. It is said the Americans have considerable dealings in negotiations behind the scenes. The U.S. hopes for a "continuation of the transformation process" for Afghanistan. But, says the commentary, the wrangling and delay in convening the Loya Jirga, and disappointment that the former king has declined a leading position, shows that "Afghanistan has not come over the mountain by a long way," as the paper puts it.

Karzai is considered to be an efficient leader, it says, but for many in Afghanistan, this Pashtun is "too much of an America's man."


Jens Hartmann, writing in Germany's "Die Welt," says Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking a solution to the problem of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad in considering the prospect of European Union expansion to the Baltics.

Time is running out, he says. If in 2003 Lithuania and Poland join the EU, Kaliningrad and its 940,000 inhabitants will be cut off from Russia by new EU members -- and the EU is adamant in its membership requirements. Russians seeking access to Kaliningrad will have to apply for a Schengen visa -- Brussels' way of preventing the infiltration of cheap labor and organized crime from the exclave.

Likewise, the EU wants to prevent the transit of Russian military equipment through the area. When expansion comes about, Hartmann says, the EU will have to encourage Moscow to bring this "backward" region up to European standards, which means an influx of serious investment.

Fortunately, says Hartmann, both sides are interested in reforming Kaliningrad and launching a joint pilot project that would evolve this region "from being an outpost into a gateway to Europe."

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