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Western Press Review: From Kashmir, To Dagestan, To The Balkans

Prague, 12 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary addresses a range of issues, from the Asian subcontinent to the Caucasus to the Balkans.

NEW YORK TIMES: Kashmir is a place haunted by senseless murder

In The New York Times, staff writer Barry Bearak writes prose-poetry from Srinegar in Kashmir, where India and Pakistan seem on the verge of decidedly unpoetic war. Bearak opens a long commentary thus: "Sadly, alarmingly, endlessly, there is trouble in paradise. The Vale of Kashmir, once exalted for the lotus blooms in its lakes and the yellow tapestry of its mustard fields, has become a valley of despair -- a place haunted by senseless murder and hideous torture, wherever the famously sweet winds blow. For a half century, India and Pakistan have fought over this land, sustaining a hatred so venomous as to rival any in the world. For each, possessing Kashmir is a matter of life and death, with both persistently willing to forsake the former [that is, life] for the latter [that is, death]."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The two South Asian arch-enemies' new-found fundamentalism shows signs of military and political effect

More prosaically, commentator Willi Germund writes from New Delhi in the Frankfurter Rundschau that both Pakistan and India find their bellicosity over Kashmir sells well politically at home. Germund says that India's government sees the downing Tuesday of a Pakistani reconnaissance plane fortuitous. In the writer's words: "(It) could hardly have come at a better time [with] Indian voters scheduled to go to the polls to elect a new parliament here in just under a month."

Germund traces the current conflict to Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in May of last year. He observes that Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had taken over as Indian prime minister. He proposed to establish as standard the Hindu way of life for a thousand million Indians --despite a huge Muslim minority. Soon afterwards, Germund writes, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in the writer's words, "rediscovered his love of Islam." And then, as Germund puts it: "The two South Asian arch-enemies' new-found fundamentalism soon began to show signs of military and political effect."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: It is rarely possible to document a massacre that did not take place

Cornelio Sommaruga, president of the International Red Cross, writes a group of commentaries on the occasion of the 50th anniversary today of the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, published in the International Herald Tribune, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and The Washington Post.

Sommaruga writes in IHT that delegates from 58 nations meeting in neutral Switzerland four years after the end of World War Two sought to distinguish civilized rules of war from the causes of war. Sommaruga says the aim was to make war "as merciful as possible --sparing noncombatants and, in particular, civilian populations." He argues that the conventions have been effective, despite notorious violations. The Red Cross chief puts it this way: "It is possible to document a massacre, but rarely a massacre that did not take place."

BOSTON GLOBE: Putin is not in line for the presidency

In a Boston Globe commentary, Moscow correspondent Brian Whitmore says that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has left a trail littered with his chosen ones. Whitmore writes: "Yeltsin has named a lot of people his heir apparent over the years. At the moment, none of them has a ghost of a chance to be Russia's next president." He also observes that Yeltsin's naming of Vladimir Putin not only as acting prime minister, but also has his chosen successor hasn't placed Putin in line for the presidency. In the writers words: "Ordinary Russians aren't exactly rushing out to buy 'Vote for Putin' bumper stickers."

BOSTON GLOBE: Insurgency in Dagestan is Moscow's worst present headache

One reason widely given for Yeltsin's firing this week of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and nomination of Putin was Stepashin's failure to grain immediate control of a developing revolt in Dagestan. In another Boston Globe commentary from Moscow, correspondent David Filipov says that whoever is Russia's prime minister faces a dangerous adversary in Dagestan, Shamil Basayev. Filipov says this: "For some in his Caucasus homeland, Shamil Basayev is the Chechen Che Guevara, liberator of the Muslim peoples of southern Russia from the Kremlin that has dominated them since Czarist times. For many Russians, however, Basayev is their own, private Osama bin Laden --terrorist, drug-runner, counterfeiter, kidnapper and Public Enemy Number One."

Filipov writes that Basayev has emerged as the leader of Islamic rebels in Dagestan, which Filipov calls "Moscow's worst headache-producing insurgency since (Basayev) helped lead Chechnya's drive to de-facto independence."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Economic preparation shouldn't be the sole criterion for accession to the EU

Turning to the Balkans, Milada Anna Vachudova writes in an International Herald Tribune commentary that European Union governments need to change the basis of their thinking about enlarging the union. Vachudova is a fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. She writes that the EU has failed to treat accession to the EU as, in her words, "a powerful tool for promoting democracy and economic reform." The writer says that the EU should reward Bulgaria and Romania for their political stability by including them in the next accession talks. Economic preparation shouldn't be the sole criterion, she argues.

FINANCIAL TIMES: NATO's leaders are wrong to deny aid to Serbia

Columnist Quentin Peel writes in a commentary in the British daily Financial Times that NATO, too, is erring in the Balkans. Peel says that NATO's leaders are wrong to deny aid to Serbia until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is ousted. The writer argues: "They could turn Serbia into something like Iraq is today" -- an embittered state led by a tyrant.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Civilizing Kosovo seems beyond the ken of the UN force

The Wall Street Journal Europe declares in an editorial that KFOR is falling short in Kosovo. In the editorial's words: "Civilizing the place [appears to be] beyond the ken of the United Nations force there." Only a short time is available for rule of law to be established in Kosovo, the newspaper says, and separating Serbs and Kosovar Albanians is only a stopgap. The editorial concludes as follows: "Unless this is accompanied by real police and administrative work, the culture of violence never will change."