Prague, 20 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- An overview of media coverage today finds a discussion of new allegations that Pakistan shared nuclear technology with other states in the region and beyond, the lessons that events in Afghanistan may hold for Iraq, and the long road ahead for Georgia's new reformist leadership.
We also take a look at the surprising results of yesterday's Iowa caucuses, as Democratic candidates vie for the nomination to challenge incumbent U.S. President George W. Bush in November elections.
New U.S. and UN allegations that Pakistan might have shared its nuclear technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea over the last two decades has prompted "a flurry of supposed investigation," says "The Times" of London. Islamabad denies it has transferred its nuclear know-how to either Libya or North Korea, "although officials do concede that individual rogue scientists may conceivably have sold nuclear technology to Iran in the late 1980s."
But the paper says "common sense" would dictate that "a handful of rogue scientists, however gifted and high-ranking, cannot proliferate alone. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is closely guarded by the military; it seems inconceivable that this sensitive technology could have been transferred without any military or government knowledge."
The alleged transfers appear to have been from state to state, but they raise the specter of similar rogue elements striking deals with terrorists, says "The Times." "If ungovernable elements in Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment have been at work, it is up to President [Pervez] Musharraf to take action and provide a more coherent explanation both to the UN and to his own people."
Musharraf has thus far been "trying to satisfy both political opponents and the international community," the paper says. However, "unless he is prepared to take concentrated action, the dangers of proliferation will not recede."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," James Dobbins of the Rand Corporation says international efforts in Afghanistan might offer some insight as to what will help stabilize Iraq.
Afghanistan "is at least as ethnically fractured and far more socially and economically ravaged than Iraq," he says. "If Afghans can peacefully select their representatives, and if those in turn can come together to debate and ultimately agree on a genuinely democratic constitution, there must be hope that something similar can be achieved in Iraq."
Successful U.S.-UN collaboration in Afghanistan offers hope the same can hold true elsewhere. "The Afghan experience underscores the positive, and perhaps the essential roles that both the United Nations and neighboring states can play in fostering the emergence of a moderate, modernizing and democratizing successor to the regime of Saddam Hussein."
It is now important for the U.S. government to support "a significantly larger role for the United Nations in Iraq's constitution-writing and subsequent democratic development, and to respond positively to [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan's efforts to create a forum for dialogue on Iraq's future among all the states of the region."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
A "Washington Post" commentary discusses voting in yesterday's Iowa caucuses, a much-anticipated event expected to narrow the field of Democratic contenders intent on challenging U.S. President George W. Bush in November elections. But the results were somewhat unexpected, as the front-runner for the nomination came in a surprising third.
The "Post" says, "Whatever one's political affiliation, last night offered much to applaud. The caucus system is subject to legitimate criticism that it doesn't offer as direct a test of voter preferences as a primary. But the near-record turnout [was] a sign of robust, vibrant political debate."
Although for months front-running candidate Howard Dean, the former governor of the state of Vermont, seemed "the sole Democratic candidate with the ability to excite voters, the closing days proved otherwise." Surprisingly, Iowa saw "astonishingly strong first- and second-place showings" by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, and only "a straggling third-place finish by Mr. Dean."
Instead of narrowing the field of candidates, the paper says "several contenders have been empowered." And this "is an outcome that ought to be resoundingly cheered."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar discusses the path ahead for Georgia in light of his own country's experience with reform. He says Georgia's new president, Mikheil Saakashvili, offers his country "a new, possibly last, chance" to align with the West and bring his people lasting stability.
Laar says the first priority must be to build "political foundations first and only then proceed with economic reform." He advises: "Don't underestimate the importance of a new modern constitution and democratic legislature elected in free and regular elections." Even the best intentions "cannot match the importance of a sound and constantly improving legal environment." And no market economy is possible "without laws, strong property rights and a working judicial system."
The second lesson from Estonia's experience is that Georgia's leadership must "be decisive about adopting reforms and stick with them despite the short-term pain they bring." And finally, says Laar: "Keep it simple. Most workable solutions are simple."
Estonia's former prime minister suggests instituting a low, proportional income tax that is "easy to collect and hard to avoid." The economy must also be opened to competition, creating the preconditions for much-needed foreign investment. And cooperation with the West through NATO is the best way to convince Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory, a longtime point of contention between Moscow and Tbilisi.
No one can force reform on a country, Laar says. But if done right, Georgia could become "a model for the other troubled countries" in the region.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius discusses the situation in Iraq, saying the country is still struggling politically, economically, and socially.
Writing from Baghdad, he says the U.S. plan for Iraq's future remains "muddled." Thus far, "No Iraqi political leadership has emerged that can rally the country; Iraq's economy is still a shambles because nobody will make big investments until security is better; and while the Iraqis are slowly building their own army and police, they will need American help for months and perhaps years to maintain order."
Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds have each been battling for their own interests, "at the expense of the nation as a whole." Ignatius warns that if this continues, the nation could "[slip] toward civil war."
He writes: "No political leader has captured much of a following," much less enough widespread support to unify the nation. What Iraqis want right now "are the basics: security and jobs." But many people remain unemployed, while intermittent violence continues to characterize life in the capital and beyond.
Ignatius says the situation at Baghdad airport "defines the nation's paradox: Logistically, it's almost back to normal, with bright lights and luggage arriving on conveyor belts." But these are of little use, since "almost no commercial flights land here because of fear that insurgents will shoot missiles at them."
THE MOSCOW TIMES:
Writing in "The Moscow Times," freelance journalist Kim Iskyan looks at the ingredients for a successful revolution. Rigged 1 November parliamentary elections served as a catalyst for the revolution in Georgia, but change was made possible due to a "heady brew" of the "sustained inability of a corrupt government to provide citizens with basic services; an opposition willing to bury its differences to harness popular discontent; [and] pressure for a peaceable resolution from Russia and the United States [as] revolutionary momentum grew. President Eduard Shevardnadze was eventually forced to resign by a combination of these factors."
Neighboring Armenia also made a brief attempt at political change in February-March last year, following a rigged presidential ballot that re-elected incumbent Robert Kocharian. But Iskyan says the Armenian government adeptly realized "that keeping the water and heat on most of the time [could] make up for some of the sins [of] a corrupt regime." Moreover, Kocharian's "economic mismanagement has been obscured [by] loads of aid money," while "no one is much bothered" by rumors of the president's involvement "in the October 1999 parliament massacre of a bevy of politicians -- including, conveniently, the core of the opposition."
The remaining opposition, unable to unite, "failed to bring popular discontent to a boil in the aftermath of the elections." And widespread "fear of retribution limited the expression of discontent."
Ultimately, says Iskyan, "Deep cynicism about the possibility of change, coupled with the government's stranglehold over the media, has been the varnish on the coffin of Armenia's abortive revolution."
Writing in France's "Le Figaro," Pierre Rousselin says the insistence by Shi'a cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that Iraq must have direct elections greatly complicates U.S. plans for Iraq. In recent weeks, daily demonstrations among Iraq's Shi'a, who make up 60 percent of the population, indicate widespread support for the ayatollah's stance, and the U.S.-led coalition has now realized that it needs UN support to manage the Shi'a issue.
Washington thought the Shi'a majority would be appreciative of the U.S. campaign to free them from the tyranny of the Sunni minority, says Rousselin. But the U.S. administration underestimated the level of organization among the clergy, which now intends to take charge of the political transition of the country. The U.S. wants a national assembly -- chosen by regional caucuses -- to take over power from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council on 30 June, as scheduled. This view did not originally envision a role for the UN, Rousselin notes, but instead allows the occupying powers to maintain their influence over the country's future institutions.
The demand for speedy elections is one way for the Shi'a to make clear that they are a majority and that the promise of democracy also means that they will soon govern the country. But the difficulty of organizing a ballot within the next few months is not lost on Sistani. He, too, realizes that extremist elements could significantly influence the vote if it takes place too soon.
At this early point, Rousselin says Sistani and the U.S. administration share the same primary goal: to stabilize the country.