Prague, 2 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in some of the major dailies today are renewed pledges of aid to Afghanistan, transformation and separatism under Georgia's new leadership, international "soul-searching" on Kosovo's final status, and former Bosnian-Serb leader Radavan Karadzic's deft evasion of another NATO attempt to apprehend the indicted war criminal.
Writing in the London-based "Financial Times," Victoria Burnett and Hugh Williamson discuss the renewed prospects that will be created by the $8.2 billion in aid pledged to Afghanistan by donor nations at a conference this week in Berlin.
"With fresh cash and assurances of assistance," they say, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government now has "a valuable chance to revitalize a reconstruction effort that Afghans largely view as disappointing and to plan projects with confidence that medium-term money will be available."
The increased aid may also "improve prospects for large-scale infrastructure projects [that] require long-term contracts and have been slow to get under way."
The authors say the decision to channel more aid through the central government is "a coup" for the Karzai administration, but the president will be under increasing pressure to assuage the fears of some donor nations that the funds will be misspent. Some Afghan ministries already evince "improved transparency and efficiency," but a real reform of the "bloated and corrupt Afghan civil service" has yet to begin.
Moreover, the authors say "effective use of the new funds will depend on improving security outside Kabul. This remains shaky, despite assurances from the government and the U.S.-led military coalition." Many aid and reconstruction projects are behind schedule "not for lack of funds, but because aid organizations consider large areas of the south and east too dangerous to work in."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
Author Thomas Goltz, who has written extensively on Caucasian and Caspian affairs, says the 70 percent support that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili won in a 28 March poll signified "an extraordinary outpouring of sentiment for change."
Saakashvili "has every right to be proud of the extraordinary political turnaround his country has experienced since scandal-tainted parliamentary elections last November sparked his so-called 'Rose Revolution,'" which ousted his predecessor.
But Goltz says "the real question for Georgia's impressive young leader is whether he can build on that success by bringing long-term stability and economic growth to a country that has mostly known misfortune and missed opportunity in its history."
Many Georgians are optimistic, he says, but the task is "huge." Saakashvili and his team must now focus on "[hauling] Georgia back from the brink of being a 'failed state.'"
The "hot-spot of current divisions" between Georgia's fractious political, regional, ethnic, and cultural lines is the autonomous region of Adjaria.
Its president, Aslan Abashidze, is "a classic post-Soviet survivor who has held an iron grip on [Adjaria] since the collapse of the USSR in 1991," and who managed to keep the Ajaran "mini-state [out] of the various ethnic and civil conflicts that have wracked the rest of Georgia throughout the 1990s."
Goltz says Saakashvili has recently made clear that Tbilisi will no longer tolerate a feudal leadership within its borders.
But it remains to be seen if "entrenched powers" like Abashidze will "tolerate" Saakashvili's reform efforts, "as he tries to wrench his country back from the brink."
Former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic once again evaded NATO attempts to capture him early yesterday. Writing in France's "Le Figaro," Isabelle Lasserre says this merely represents the international community's latest failure in Bosnia. It was the fourth such attempt to capture Karadzic, an indicted war crimes suspect, since the beginning of the year.
Accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, Karadzic was rarely disturbed by the sweeps carried out by NATO forces, says Lasserre. Eight years of inaction on the part of the international community has been discomfiting, she says.
As the world's most-wanted man after Osama bin Laden, Karadzic has been hiding out in Republika Srpska, an entity of moderate size and swarming with NATO troops. To explain this failure, French and U.S. troops have often cited the challenges posed by the difficult mountainous terrain they must patrol. But Karadzic also remains popular among the local population and enjoys their protection.
But another obstacle is the lack of political will on the part of the West, says Lasserre. The mandate in Bosnia is ambiguous, and is focused on stabilizing the country rather than apprehending war criminals.
Moreover, there are certain embarrassing episodes dating from the war that both French and U.S. officials might prefer to remain hidden, including rumors of a "gentlemen's agreement" being struck between Karadzic and the chief U.S. negotiator for the Dayton peace agreement, Richard Holbrooke. There have been reports that Holbrooke agreed to allow Karadzic's freedom in exchange for his permanent withdrawal from political life.
But Lasserre says as long as Karadzic remains free, the mission of NATO Stabilization Force troops in Bosnia will be viewed as a failure.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation's International Security and Defense Center says recent interethnic violence in Kosovo "has led to a good deal of soul-searching within the international community." The world is rethinking its approach, he says, and talk of partitioning the province is gaining favor. And indeed, the time has come to re-evaluate.
Kosovars will "never again allow themselves to be governed from Belgrade." And the international community's "failure to formally recognize this fact could only exacerbate ethnic tensions inside Kosovo, allowing Serb residents to harbor the hope of again becoming the dominant nationality, and causing Albanian residents to regard every remaining Serb enclave as a beachhead for the next invasion."
The decision to postpone indefinitely an agreement on Kosovo's final status was made with good reason, he says. By "holding any decision on its future status in abeyance, [the] international community has bought itself five years of peace in the Balkans."
Other than continuing to delay, he says, there are two viable options. One is to grant independence to the entire province, "but with protected havens for the Serb population." Or, the province could be partitioned. And yet either of these choices would encourage separatism in neighboring Macedonia and Montenegro, and perhaps Bosnia.
"Multi-ethnicity in Kosovo is a distant prospect," and will only be achieved with a final decision on Kosovo, Dobbins says. But the "benefits for Kosovo's people [of] moving ahead to determine that status must still be weighed by the international community against the costs to the region as a whole."
The London-based "Economist" weekly says most European voters now accept that "if their economies are to return to faster growth [and] unemployment is to be cut, their bloated pension, welfare and health-care systems, and their rigid labor-market regulations, all need fairly radical reform." Yet Europe-wide, in national or local elections, voters "are proving quick to punish governments that put forward any specific proposals that would inflict pain."
The magazine says the danger is that "politicians may respond to electoral setbacks by slowing down the pace of change."
But although "few voters welcome painful [changes], experience shows that they can be persuaded of their necessity."
The lesson for the likes of France's President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi "is clear: they must make a more convincing case of the need for change than they have done so far. Too often, they have themselves seemed to be reluctant reformers. So it is not surprising that their electorates have copied them." The magazine says: "True believers can prove surprisingly persuasive -- especially if they have a good case to sell."