Prague, 8 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in the Western press today centers on the 6 July assassination of Afghan Minister of Public Works Haji Abdul Qadir. Several papers discuss what his assassination means for the administration of Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai, as Qadir was instrumental in forging bonds between rival Tajik and Pashtun government factions.
Other topics addressed today and over the weekend include the future shape of Europe, Afghanistan's unintended victims, and whether the United States is forging battle plans for a campaign in Iraq.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:
"The Daily Telegraph" today carries an analysis by Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia correspondent for both the "Telegraph" and the "Far Eastern Economic Review." Rashid says the assassination of Afghan Minister of Public Works Haji Abdul Qadir, who was also one of the Transitional Authority's five vice presidents, has "dealt a major blow" to the prospects for ethnic unity in the country.
Qadir played the role of "bridge-builder" between the ethnic Pashtuns, of which he was a member, and the Tajik factions within the government. His death may further weaken the stability of the central government in Kabul.
As a prominent warlord from Jalalabad, Qadir sought to convince other warlords "to take up cabinet posts in Kabul and leave their fiefdoms, thereby enabling the central government to extend its influence beyond the capital." Following Qadir's murder, says Rashid, it is unlikely warlords will consider leaving their provinces for Kabul, where security is still a major problem despite the presence of 5,000 international peacekeepers.
Rashid goes on to note that the new transitional Afghan government and several European nations are stepping up criticism of the U.S. for lacking a cohesive political and economic strategy in Afghanistan that might also help strengthen the fledgling central government in Kabul.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," correspondent Pamela Constable, writing from Kabul, also discusses what Qadir's assassination means for stability within Afghanistan.
No matter who is responsible for the killing, she says, Qadir's death is "likely to damage the credibility of President Hamid Karzai's fledgling government and worsen animosities among Afghan ethnic groups...." Government spokesmen have blamed his death on terrorists or others seeking to destabilize the government in Kabul.
Constable says some "angry mourners" from Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun majority, of which Qadir was a member, believe "rival ethnic Tajik forces, possibly inside the government's Tajik-controlled security establishment, were behind the slaying." Some observers expect Qadir's assassination could lead to violent retribution by Pashtun groups.
Still others surmise that Qadir was targeted as part of "a complex struggle for political influence back in Nangarhar," the province surrounding Qadir's native Jalalabad. After the Taliban defeat, Constable writes, Qadir "fought for power with two rival militia groups there and angered wealthy opium-poppy farmers" by supporting the eradication of poppy crops.
Constable cites other observers as saying Qadir had recently "clashed with some former anti-Taliban allies among Tajik militia leaders, who sought to establish their own ethnic power base in Nangarhar and who resented Qadir's political ascendancy under Karzai."
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" discusses compensation for the unintended victims of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Early on 1 July, four Afghan villages were hit by what the paper calls "errant or mistargeted" U.S. fire. Many of the killed and injured were taking part in an engagement celebration. The "Financial Times" says that the proper U.S. response to such errors is to "go beyond kind words." Instead, Washington "should treat the wounded, investigate, and then pay compensation to the families of those killed."
As the editorial says: "No one knows exactly how many unintended victims the American military campaign in Afghanistan has taken. Estimates range from a few hundred to a few thousand. Many families lost not only loved ones and breadwinners, but houses and possessions, and most were already living in penury unimaginable to Americans." The editorial notes that Afghan relief workers have suggested compensation of $10,000 per death.
"Ongoing hostilities and [real] enemies on the ground in Afghanistan complicate determinations of who deserves compensation," the paper observes. Even so, it says, "Washington has the obligation to determine as best it can what happened in every credible case."
Belgium's daily "Le Soir" calls the assassination of Afghan Public Works Minister and Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir a political "thunderclap." Now, it says, investigators in charge of finding the killers are faced with a multitude of trails to follow. "This Pashtun leader from eastern Afghanistan had many friends," it notes, "but also numerous potential enemies."
The many posts Qadir held -- of vice president, minister of public works as well as transport, and antidrug czar -- make the number of his possible enemies almost infinite, the paper says. In addition, he had recently dismissed the police chief of Jalalabad, Hazrat Ali, after the failed attack on Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim in April.
"Le Soir" cites a member of the International Security Assistance Force as saying that Ali's dismissal alone was enough reason for some factions to eliminate Qadir from the political scene.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at the options being discussed for a U.S. military campaign in Iraq. A preliminary planning document from the Pentagon suggests that military chiefs are considering a large-scale assault involving air and ground forces and as many as 250,000 U.S. troops. But "The New York Times" says at this early stage -- "long before actual operational details are set" -- there should be widespread discussion in Congress and elsewhere on the nature and methods of a U.S. military operation.
"Warfare on this scale carries substantial risks," the paper writes. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, threatened with the toppling of his regime, may not be easily deterred "from using his hidden stocks of anthrax, botulinum toxin, and VX nerve gas."
The editorial says any military offensive probably will not take place until early next year. Many representatives in Congress, including the opposition Democrats, support the idea of military action in Iraq. But the editorial says congressional leaders have not "lived up to their responsibility for demanding a full public discourse about how to pursue [this] goal with maximum chances of success and minimum risk to American forces, interests and alliances."
The paper concludes that "informed and serious debate" is urgently needed.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former European Commission representative in Washington Roy Denman discusses the progressive integration of Europe.
"[A] European Union enlarged to a total of 25 member states and with a single currency for some 300 million people cannot be run by the glorified customs union which exists at present," Denman writes. In particular, he says, a common European foreign policy remains an unlikely prospect. Attempts to jointly defend Europe's interests in the world are held back by persistent differences of view.
Denman says Europe "is split between the integrationists, who believe that the EU can never function without something resembling a single executive body, and the intergovernmentalists, who want power to remain in the hands of national governments."
But one proposal is gaining credence, he says. Perhaps the EU's six founding members should constitute "an advance group." Their foreign ministers would meet with Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, to "decide foreign policy issues by majority vote and make a start in integrating their embassies and consulates," suggests Denman. But he emphasizes that this grouping would not exclude other EU members. Any member state "could apply to join if it were willing to accept the integration involved," he says.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Volker Zastrow discusses unemployment in Germany, which he says is quickly becoming the major issue ahead of September elections for chancellor. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder promised four years ago to make job creation a priority for his administration, and the main criterion on which to judge his political success. But Zastrow says if Schroeder had been serious about this pledge, "he would not be running for re-election."
Zastrow says the reform proposals now being discussed for the Federal Labor Office and the labor market offer little chance of improving the situation. The plans contain three essential elements. First, a reduction in benefits financed by social insurance, with some federal services being shifted to the municipalities; second, improving and accelerating the job-finding process; and third, the creation of a new agency that would find jobs for the unemployed.
"Yet none of these proposals can create new jobs," says Zastrow. "They are primarily concerned with a creative organization of joblessness: It is unemployment that is being mediated, not employment."
Zastrow says that "the real cure for Germany's high unemployment is well-known: re-establish the social market economy, and renounce the redistributive state." But this prescription does not have much support from either the people or the government, he says.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Paul Krugman expresses disbelief that U.S. President George W. Bush is seeking to portray himself as shocked at the recent spate of accounting scandals plaguing U.S. corporations. He notes that tomorrow, Bush is to give a speech "intended to put him in front of the growing national outrage over corporate malfeasance," in which he will "sternly lecture Wall Street executives about ethics...."
But Bush's pose "is surreal," says Krugman, "given the way top officials like Secretary of the Army Thomas White, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Bush himself acquired their wealth. Bush profited personally from aggressive accounting identical to the recent scams that have shocked America," he says.
Krugman writes: "The ploy works as follows. Corporate insiders create a front organization that seems independent but is under their control. This front buys some of the firm's assets at unrealistically high prices, creating a phantom profit that inflates the stock price, allowing the executives to cash in their stock." Eventually, this inflated price bubble bursts and other investors are left to take the loss.
In 1986, Bush was a failed businessman. He had lost millions of dollars and had nothing but a company heavily in debt. "But he was rescued from failure when Harken Energy bought his company at an astonishingly high price," Krugman writes. "There is no question but that Harken was basically paying for Bush's [political] connections."
Krugman concludes that Bush cannot "really be shocked over recent corporate scams. His own company pulled the same tricks, to his considerable benefit."