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Western Press Review: Pakistan's Elections, Yugoslavia, And Washington's Sniper-At-Large

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 10 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Western media's analysis and commentary today looks at parliamentary elections in Pakistan as voters head to the polls, the nationalist victory in Bosnia-Herzegovina's 5 October elections, and Washington's sniper-at-large, among other issues.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today looks at Pakistan's parliamentary elections. President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power three years ago in a bloodless military coup, will "no doubt herald the result as a fulfillment of his promises to restore democracy and civilian rule." But in reality, the elections "are a sham," says the paper.

Pakistan's president "is grudgingly accepted at home and abroad because nobody can see an acceptable alternative. However, the longer he remains in power, the more likely that his undemocratic rule will spawn opposition forces that are even more inimical to Pakistan evolving into a stable, secular democracy."

The "Journal" goes on to say that most Pakistani citizens remain resigned "to the fact that their votes play only a minor role in selecting a civilian government which will run the country under the tutelage of the military."

The danger is that Musharraf will use this situation to further solidify his power. But some of the problems he faces, including challenges to his authority by radical Islamic factions, are gaining strength from this lack of political openness.

The "Journal" says, "Ultimately, General Musharraf cannot be an effective ally in the war against terrorism if he won't return power to his people."


An editorial in the British "Financial Times" says that when General Pervez Musharraf seized power in Pakistan, there was "something of a sigh of relief." The new president started well, says the paper, by first heading a bloodless coup and then accepting the Supreme Court's order to restore democracy in the country by 2002, the result of which is the election today. Moreover, he "restored the country's finances and a measure of public probity."

Following the launch of the war on terror, Musharraf sought to crack down on Islamic militants in Pakistan, although he responded by consolidating his power. "Instead of running against discredited, feudal politicians he could easily have defeated, General Musharraf banned them, got himself confirmed as president for five more years in a manufactured referendum and changed the constitution so that a national security council he will dominate oversees parliament and the new government."

The "FT" says Musharraf may have thus set himself "on a path to confrontation" with the same "modern and secular forces that he should mobilize in the struggle to modernize Pakistan." Such flawed and "restrictive" elections will not produce stability, it says.


In Britain's "The Guardian" daily, Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace writes from Lahore saying that in Pakistan, issues such as radical fundamentalism, terrorism, and even Kashmir are not the most important subjects on people's minds. He says most people cite "unemployment, followed by issues such as education, health, sanitation, and transport," as being the most pressing subjects that concern them.

"The great majority don't even mention Kashmir, Afghanistan, or the U.S. unless you ask about them," Lieven says.

But these basic, quality-of-life issues don't grab the attention of foreign or domestic audiences the same way. "But it is mostly on these issues that [Pakistan's] elections have been fought."

Essentially, says Lieven, Pakistan "suffers from terrible problems, but if full-scale war with India can be avoided, [it] is nowhere near collapsing as a state, suffering an Islamist revolution, or giving its nuclear weapons to terrorists." But he adds, "Of course, shortage of water and other crises may well destroy Pakistan eventually -- but by the time that happens, much of the world will be in crisis."


Gemma Poerzgen in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" looks at the current situation in Yugoslavia. Poerzgen points out that Serbia is "still faced with a painful transformation process for which the people are ill-prepared." This is evidenced in part by the current elections, in which only 56 percent voted in the first round on 5 October.

Yugoslavia's President Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who advocates cautious economic reform, won more votes in the first round than Miroljub Labus, who supports swifter reform. Serb ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj finished a strong third.

It may be a comfort to see that the two firm democrats are in the lead for the second round on 13 October, but nevertheless, Poerzgen says, it is "alarming" to note the number of votes received by the ultranationalist and the generally apathetic electorate. This indicates the dissatisfaction and disappointment of a major section of the populace and how the politicians, in their personal struggles for power, have lost the confidence of the people.

Poerzgen says the whole election process may have to be repeated if Seselj's supporters and others boycott the second round and an insufficient number of votes are cast.


Also in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Karl Grobe calls a comparison drawn by former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis between the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 and current Lithuanian negotiations to join the European Union and NATO "tasteless" and lacking in "political honesty."

Grobe says this historical comparison is weak. Joining the EU and NATO is not a case of dictators sharing the spoils, as in 1939. He says the Lithuanian government has requested membership; in fact, this process was begun 12 years ago when Lithuania gained its independence and Landsbergis himself set the process in motion to counteract pressure from Russia following the long struggle to gain independence.

The fact that this same Landsbergis is now distributing leaflets at the Frankfurt Book Fair making such comparisons shows that he never was one to mince words. In former days, says the commentary, there were some thought underlying his words. Not this time though.

And if by any chance he means what he says, then Grobe says, "It is high time to forget about him as a serious politician."


"Los Angeles Times" syndicated columnist William Pfaff urges the international community to seriously re-examine the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and adopt reasonable expectations for the future.

After three years of "fratricidal war" in Yugoslavia, the U.S. and NATO intervened in the summer of 1995. All warring parties were brought to the U.S. Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, where, "under intense pressures, they were made to accept unwanted compromises." A central government with representatives from all three groups was established, and Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided.

But this new state has "not been a success. Living standards are low, the economy feeble, the unemployment level 60 percent." The young and talented are emigrating, draining the country of its future.

Last week's elections (5 October) saw low voter turnout and a victory for nationalist candidates. Pfaff says the final makeup of the new government remains unclear, "but liberal, secular, and multiethnic forces have lost. It now seems necessary for the international community to admit that the Dayton solution was not a solution. It was a way to end a war. It did not provide the foundation for a modern state," or a path toward national reconciliation.

He says the only "constructive response" may be to concede failure, "to concede to the nationalists." Pfaff says democratic values "may better prosper if Bosnia-Herzegovina is partitioned once again. Realism demands that this be discussed."


A "Chicago Tribune" commentary by Clarence Page discusses the sniper terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area. So far, the sniper has killed six and injured two others. Victims have been shot while sitting on a park bench, while vacuuming the car, mowing the lawn, or standing on the street. A 13-year-old boy was critically injured as he arrived at school.

Page says that for all the political talk of late about "terrorism" and "weapons of mass destruction," the United States has "terror right here at home, [a] lunatic with an old-fashioned weapon of mass destruction, a gun."

He notes that U.S. federal agents "now have the technology to read the markings on bullets or shell casings and store them in a database that can be retrieved by police department computers across the nation." A nationwide system of "ballistic fingerprinting" would call for test-firing "every gun before it is sold and [keeping] an electronic record of the markings that the weapons leave on the bullets or shell casings. That data can then be kept with the serial numbers of the guns, so that guns used in a crime can be traced."

"Why do we not use all of our available tools to trace bullets and guns used [in] crimes?" he asks.


An editorial in "The New York Times" also discusses the sniper and says, "Virtually the only thing certain about the killer so far is the caliber of his rifle, the skill with which he uses it, and the fact that he seems to have found a way to shoot and then vanish in plain sight."

The fact that the shots come "out of nowhere, revealing nothing about their origin, is one of the things that [makes] this case so terrifying.

"And yet these shots could have revealed something about their origin," the paper continues, referring to the system of ballistic fingerprinting that would allow authorities to identify the owner of a registered gun from its bullet. A nationwide database of bullets matched with gun sales "might have made an enormous difference in a case like this. But the National Rifle Association has roundly opposed the idea as just another form of gun registration, and Congress has consistently followed the NRA's lead."

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