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Western Press Review: Ocalan, India-Pakistan

By Joel Blocker, Dora Slaba, and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 1 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today manages to escape its months-long, almost total concentration on the war in Kosovo. Instead, commentators touch on several subjects, notably the opening yesterday of the Turkish government's trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and the threat of a new, expanded conflict between India and Pakistan in the disputed province of Kashmir.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Europe must share in the blame

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung calls the Ocalan trial in an editorial today "a missed opportunity." The paper writes: "'First well stage a fair trial, then well hang him' this seems to be the way Turkey wants to deal with Ocalan [But] Europe," it adds, "should hold back its crocodile tears. It, too, must share in the blame."

The editorial goes on: "[Europe shares responsibility] because it has not risen to the challenge of finding a solution to the Kurdish problem. The [Kurdish] terrorist leader was caught in Rome [but allowed to leave by the Italian government]. Germany had earlier issued an international warrant for his arrest, but dodged a trial on its soil. That would have been 'inopportune' [said Bonn] because of the many Kurds and Turks residing in the country."

Thus did Europe miss the opportunity of conducting a fair trial of Ocalan... Ocalans crimes would have been clarified [in a European trial]. The brutal attacks of the Turkish army in Anatolia against Kurds would also have been raised [at such a trial]. The sentence would have been acceptable for both Kurds and Turks. Now, a party to the [Kurd-Turkish] conflict itself is dictating the trial proceedings and outcome."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Turkey should win over the Kurds and improve its human-rights record

In Britain, the Financial Times writes that the Ocalan trial presents the Turkish government with an immediate, important challenge. Its editorial says: "The challenge for Turkey, which has itself often been in the dock of world opinion for human-rights abuses, is not only to give its most wanted terrorist the fairest possible trial. The new government [in Ankara] should also launch a new peace and reconciliation offensive toward it Kurdish minority."

"Nothing," the FT continues, "would improve Turkey's stability and foreign image more than a real effort to woo the Kurds." To win over the Kurds and improve its human-rights record in general, the paper recommends three actions to the Turkish government:

"First," it says, "... it should take military judges out of its state security courts ... Second, it should wind down its massive military offensive in the country's largely Kurdish southeast ... Third, the savings of this $7 billion a year [military] operation should be channeled backed into the southeast's development."

AFTENPOSTEN: Neither the state nor the accused is entirely black or white

The Norwegian daily Aftenposten makes a similar point in its editorial today. Ocalan's trial, it says, "will also be Turkey's trial since Europe will watch closely how the Turkish authorities handle the proceedings."

"Ocalan," the paper continues, "[yesterday] called for peace and begged for forgiveness from the families of the many victims of his PKK [Kurdish Workers' Party] guerrillas. But it is unlikely his pleas will mollify either the three judges who are trying him or the Turkish public to whom, for many years, Ocalan has been represented as the arch-enemy.''

Aftenposten concludes by underlining what it calls the "extreme complication" of Ocalan's trial. It writes: "With its oppression of the Kurds, Turkey has clearly violated many of the principles regarding both human rights in general and the treatment of national minorities in particular that it vowed to uphold in 1950 when it became a member of the Council of Europe. But the PKK, which Ocalan has led for many years, has itself, under the guise of a fight for freedom, committed terrorism and violence. So neither the state acting as prosecutor, nor the accused, is entirely black or white."

INFORMATION: Turkey has made an enormous mistake

In Denmark, the daily Information writes in its editorial today: "Ocalan had little choice but to say he was 'sorry' yesterday, but it remains remarkable what kind of language a terrorist leader can resort to in order to save his own skin. [His apology] is understandable, given that a majority of Turks want him hanged, but still strange when seen in the light of his ever-growing support among Kurds both within Turkey and in Europe." The paper goes on to suggest that Ocalan's apologetic tone at the trial's opening "may indicate that his loyalty to the thousands of people that have fought ... during the 14-year-long PKK struggle changed the moment his own life was put in jeopardy." Information is also critical of the government's conduct of the trial, noting that "it has been extensively criticized by the international community because, among other things, one of the judges is a military officer and thus a party to the conflict."

It concludes: "Regardless of Ocalan's guilt -- which could bring him a death sentence -- Turkey has made the enormous mistake of not using the occasion of Ocalan's imprisonment to begin talks with the more moderate Kurdish leaders. A constructive dialogue with them would have paved the way for more rights and freedoms for the Kurds that both they themselves and Ankara would have benefited from."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Turkey is by far the most democratic and liberal country in the Muslim world

In the Wall Street Journal Europe, editorial-page writer Robert Pollock contributes an entirely different assessment of Turkey's recent past, writing of what calls the country's "unheralded success." The commentary says: "Turkey is by far the most democratic and liberal country in the Muslim world ... In many ways," he adds, "it is measure of Turkey's success in modernization and liberalization ... that it should now be held to Western standards of account."

Pollock continues: "Outsiders frequently misperceive the nature of [Turkey's] problems, [notably in] the constant Western complaints about the intervention of the Turkish military in political life. [Some Turkish analysts] argue that the military is generally a force for liberalism ... and the strangely liberal nature of the Turkish military probably has something to do with the liberal nature of Turkish nationalism."

He concludes: "This liberalizing trend is something Turkey's Western critics should appreciate. For even if Turkey isn't [yet] ready to join institutions like the European Union, there is little question that its further integration into the Western system is of critical importance."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: India and Pakistan look like dangerous pests on the world stage

Turning its attention to Asia, the Wall Street Journal Europe today also carries an editorial on the recent armed clashes between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. The paper says that "Russia was being disingenuous last week when it blamed the worsening conflict in Kashmir on the bad example of NATO's use of 'force and terrorism' in Kosovo ... But," the paper adds, Moscow had a better point when it criticized both countries for the present outbreak of hostilities. That," it finds, "was an unusually non-partisan condemnation from a country that is India's traditional ally."

The editorial goes on: "Undoubtedly Moscow senses, as we all should, that when a couple of nuclear powers skirmish, it hardly matters which one is an ally and who's to blame. The same for China, which showed no favoritism toward its friend Pakistan when it lectured both countries last week. The danger they pose is so great that the issue becomes how the rest of the world can protect itself from nuclear nuisances."

The WSJ concludes that "One thing is sure: India and Pakistan look like dangerous pests on the world stage. If they are incapable of exterminating the threat that their enmity poses to the rest of us, then they must ask for outside help. But their own interests would be best served if they solve the problem themselves."

WASHINGTON POST: Another war now could widen the zone of danger

The Washington Post says that "the immediate facts of the [current] Kashmir incident are, typically, in dispute." It writes in its editorial: "India saw the hand of the Pakistani government in an infiltration of hundreds of armed Muslims across the 450-mile 'line of control' separating Pakistan-held Kashmir from India-held Kashmir. Pakistan saw a 'very, very serious' provocation in the Indian air strikes that followed. It was India's first use of air power in peacetime; the two have warred three times, twice over Kashmir. It was also the largest military exchange since a proud India and, shortly thereafter, a responding Pakistan conducted nuclear tests just a year ago."

The paper's editorial continues: "Here are India and Pakistan flexing their power in a raw border clash as though their respective tests had never altered the nuclear equation holding between them. Pakistan continues irresponsibly to stoke insurgents in the part of Kashmir it does not control. India continues to deny self-determination to the people of Kashmir, choosing instead to pursue a policy of hegemony in the Asian subcontinent."

"On the evidence of the latest trouble," the WP sums up, "neither party has thought through its new obligations for acting in ways ... that lead away from nuclear confrontation, not toward it. Their wars and the wasted periods between them were always painfully costly to the two of them. Another war now could widen the zone of danger. Both India and Pakistan are new at the nuclear game."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The situation is fragile

A commentary in the International Herald Tribune also focuses on the Kashmir conflict. Analyst Philip Bowring asks: "Why is it that three months ago Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a historic cross-border bus journey to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawar Sharif, the two countries are in their most dangerous confrontation of this decade? The answer," he says, "seems to lie partly in Pakistan's domestic politics and partly in the international environment, of which Kosovo is also an ingredient."

The commentary says further: "India seems to have scant role in the immediate causes of the crisis, but its elections coming up in the Autumn increase the danger of escalation. Mr. Sharif has been engaged in an effort to increase his prime ministerial power at the expense of other institutions and of some of the freedoms Pakistanis have grown accustomed to since the end of Zia ul-Haq's rule in 1998."

Bowring sums up: "The situation is fragile. The West, focused on Kosovo and U.S.-China relations, should be taking more note of what is happening. An escalation is more a possibility than a probability, but the sudden eruption of this crisis illustrates a broader instability in international relationships."