Prague, 17 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the press today are the death last week of former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev, the assassination attempt on Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, getting to the root of troubles in the North Caucasus, and how the trial of Saddam Hussein can help world governments confront their own dubious dealings with the former regime.
Writing in the "Financial Times," David Stern, Andrew Jack, and Tom Warner discuss the death on 12 December of Azerbaijan's 80-year-old former president, Heidar Aliyev. The elder statesman was succeeded in October by his son Ilham, in a much-contested dynastic succession.
The authors call the former president a "political survivor," saying there was "something special about [his] statesmanship and personality." They describe his memory as "legendary," noting that he often delivered speeches lasting for hours at a time. But they say Aliyev was also "a Central Asia-style statesman, formed by a career in the Soviet secret service. [He] was cunning and ruthless and maintained his grip on power through corruption, falsified elections and by cleverly holding the opposition down but not quashing it entirely." Corruption in the country thrived under his watch.
Much of Aliyev's early history is "shrouded in conjecture." His rise through the ranks of the KGB is described as "meteoric," and he was the first Muslim to achieve Politburo status. He came to power in Azerbaijan's top post in 1993, and "proceeded to lure foreign investment" into the country's oil fields. He also brought a measure of stability by signing a cease-fire with neighboring Armenia in their dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
Now the country is undergoing a week of mourning declared by Azerbaijan's new president, Aliyev's son Ilham. The authors say the younger Aliyev's powers of leadership have not yet been tested, and it remains to be seen if he can fulfill his pledge to continue his father's course.
Writing in the "Chicago Tribune," Joseph Bauers says the capture of Saddam Hussein "does not solve the problems of Iraq, which are likely to plague the Iraqi people and American foreign policy for years." So far, U.S. policy in Iraq "has cost hundreds of American lives, thousands of untold -- and uncounted -- innocent Iraqi lives, several hundred billion dollars [and] the credibility of an administration that has pulled off the feat through lies and distortions to the lapdog Congress and the American people."
The United States' history in Iraq includes not only "tolerating the thuggish regime but of aiding and abetting it as well." And Bauers says, "Lost in all this is the simple fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the [11 September 2001], attacks; in fact, our occupation gives Islamic terrorists convenient targets for more attacks." Washington's "heavy-handed approach has alienated much of the world community, and we are no safer because of it."
But still, he says, the U.S. "propaganda mill grinds on, convincing us that it is all something that it is not."
A "Chicago Tribune" editorial addresses the controversy over whether former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should be tried in a national Iraqi court or by an international tribunal. The paper says Iraqis "have a right, and an obligation, to try the former tyrant."
A trial conducted in Iraq "would be extraordinarily cathartic for the millions who suffered under Hussein: for the Kurds whose families were gassed, the Shiites whose relatives were slaughtered, the political opponents who were summarily executed, for everyone who lived in constant fear of him." And such a trial would offer a chance for Iraq to show the world that it is developing an open and honest court system, something it did not have under the former regime. Several observers have argued that the fledgling Iraqi judiciary is not yet ready to conduct such a major trial -- but the paper calls these fears "overblown."
It says the view of Saddam Hussein "receiving a fair, deliberate and open trial will be a powerful statement to the world -- and to Iraqis themselves -- about the new Iraq."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" says, "Under different circumstances, [Saddam] Hussein could be tried by a purely Iraqi court." But Iraq today "is an occupied country, with no legitimate government. It has trained lawyers and judges, but few with experience under anything resembling the rule of law, let alone a case raising the complex legal issues posed by this trial." Moreover, the new tribunal established last week by the Iraqi Governing Council "would not provide the needed international imprimatur or scope for prosecuting Mr. Hussein's war crimes against Kuwaitis and Iranians."
Any trial of the former leader must be characterized by "openness, Iraqi participation and international legal norms," says the paper. The best alternative would be "an internationally sanctioned tribunal based on the model of the one in Sierra Leone, which uses a mix of local and international jurists."
The trial "must make the details of Mr. Hussein's many crimes as widely known as possible. Establishing the full truth of those years and putting it squarely in view of the whole Iraqi public can be a crucial step in making it possible for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to live together peacefully and democratically for the first time in Iraqi history."
Writing in Britain's "The Independent," columnist Johann Hari says the trial of Saddam Hussein offers two "extraordinary opportunities." First, the Iraqi people will be able "to seize control of dealing with their own tyrant." Now, he says, "they can dispense their own justice -- a crucial element in restoring Iraqi dignity." Hari says Hussein should be kept in Iraq "until there is a democratic Iraqi government who can dispose of them as they wish. If they choose to hand him over to an international tribunal, fine, but it is their choice."
The second opportunity offered by a trial of Iraq's former ruler is for the international community to face up to the role it had in aiding and abetting his regime. Hari notes that Hussein was offered material and financial support by Western leaders for decades. He suggests the U.S.-led coalition "could establish an international truth and reconciliation process where our politicians would confess and apologize to the Iraqi people for their complicity in Saddam's crimes."
Hari says: "We cannot wish this history away. It is time our governments confront it and make amends." Instead of squabbling over which countries get which lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq, he says the international community should be considering paying reparations to the Iraqi people for being complicit in their repression.
A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the future of Iraq in light of its huge foreign debt, estimated at some $120 billion, owed mainly to Europe and Russia. The United States has sent former Secretary of State James Baker on a five-nation mission to promote an internationally coordinated debt-relief process which, the commentary says, "would serve as a sign of worldwide solidarity with Iraq."
But the United States unwisely planted political explosives around the uncontroversial issue of rebuilding Iraq by excluding those who protested the war from lucrative reconstruction contracts. Hence the question of debt relief is automatically connected with this issue, and nations will now carefully consider "under what conditions they are willing to help George Bush" out of the Iraq mess.
The commentary says these two issues can no longer be separated. But to prevent this quarrel from becoming an unwelcome burden on Iraq, the only solution is to declare a moratorium. The paper says the final discussion about debt forgiveness should be postponed until the politics in Iraq become more transparent.
THE MOSCOW TIMES:
An editorial in "The Moscow Times" says the raids this week by a group of armed rebels in Daghestan "came as a stark reminder that the Kremlin's efforts to quell violent extremism in the North Caucasus are failing. Mot only have the authorities failed to stem armed separatism in Chechnya, but they have also proved unable to prevent violence from spilling into neighboring republics."
Moscow's "heavy-handed PR measures" and full-fledged combat "have failed to end -- and they will never end -- violence," the paper says. And yet the authorities continue "to focus on treating the symptoms rather than the causes of the malaise."
The republics of the North Caucasus "are among the poorest and most densely populated of all Russian regions. Daghestan, for one, has become notorious for corruption, human rights abuses and oppression of the opposition under strongman Magomedali Magomedov, who seems to have struck a deal with the Kremlin that allows him to do what he pleases as long as he and his regime remain loyal. It is this malaise that breeds the violent extremists, and they are gradually integrating into the international web of religious terrorism."
The Moscow daily says so many young people in the North Caucasus have already converted their lack of hope into following extreme forms of Islam "that it may be too late to root out extremism completely, even if the authorities were to mount an effort to improve their lives and protect their freedoms."
An item in the "Chicago Tribune" says the 14 December explosion on a bridge in Rawalpindi, which missed by mere seconds a motorcade carrying Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, is "a grim reminder that the future of Pakistan is volatile, unpredictable and critical to both American security and world peace."
The paper notes this was the third apparent assassination attempt on Musharraf since the fall of 2001, when he announced his support for Washington's war on terror following the attacks on New York and Washington that September. This latest attack also underscores how unstable Pakistan really is. No elected government in Islamabad "has ever served out its allotted term -- including the one overthrown by Musharraf in 1999. Though the coup was initially popular, he has disappointed Pakistanis who hoped he would stamp out corruption, foster economic progress and establish genuine rule by the people." Today, "any legitimacy he ever had has largely vanished. The military has kept its claim on the lion's share of the impoverished nation's meager resources."
But without Musharraf, the paper says, "things could get even worse." Islamabad "has dozens of nuclear warheads, and, in the turmoil of a violent change of regimes, there is no telling who might gain control of them." Thus Washington "sees little choice but to work with Musharraf, flaws and all."
A "Le Monde" editorial says the capture of Saddam Hussein was the capture of one of the biggest dictators of all time. It is now time to settle his accounts, which are costly -- and bloody. Hussein was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and for the hardships of many others both within Iraq and in neighboring countries. Executions, torture, forced migrations, chemical attacks against minorities -- these were Hussein's methods, the paper says. And not just satisfied with making his own people suffer, soon after coming to power Saddam launched a war with Iran that lasted eight long years, and during which he enjoyed Western support.
Moreover, he shamed the Arab world by installing a criminal, mafia-style leadership in a country that once had the resources to become one of the engines of modernity in the region -- petroleum, of course, but also a well-educated populace -- the rich inheritance, "Le Monde" says, of ancient Mesopotamia.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)