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Western Press Review: Pakistan's Coup, EU Reform

Prague, 19 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan's problems in the aftermath of last week's military coup d'etat remains the chief subject of interest for Western press commentators today. There is also continuing comment on the European Union's prospects for enlargement and internal change following the 15-nation group's summit in Finland over the past weekend.

DIE WELT: Pakistan's problems are just too big for simple solutions

In Germany's Die Welt newspaper today, commentator Michael Stuermer says: "Pakistan needs a technocracy to bring reforms and end corruption." He writes: "The future of Pakistan in the wake of the military coup will not be unimportant to the rest of the world. The Commonwealth is considering suspending Pakistan's membership. ... U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is demanding a return to democracy, as if it ever existed in workable form in ... Islamabad. Pakistan's problems are just too big for simple solutions."

The commentary goes on: "Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons and missile technology reinforces the wish of the outside world for the country to be ruled responsibly. ... But in recent years, this has been less and less the case. Pakistan's democratic foundations are weak, and since 1988 five civil governments have fallen in quick succession."

Stuermer argues: "Given the situation in Pakistan, there is no relying on democracy. What is needed is a technocracy to modernize the country with land and tax reforms, voter registration and control of election finances. [But] it is doubtful whether the military, which plays games with the Islamists, is suited to this role." And he concludes: "It is of the utmost importance that the military regime understand the extreme seriousness of nuclear weapons and exercise the kind of restraint that behooves a nuclear power."

NEW YORK TIMES: Musharraf should set a realistic timetable for genuine elections

The New York Times writes in an editorial today: "In Pakistan, a corrupt and incompetent democratic government has been replaced by a military dictator who now pledges bold and necessary reforms. General Pervez Musharraf's speech to the Pakistani people Sunday night was reassuringly statesmanlike. But one big omission was a schedule for restoring democratic rule."

The paper continues: "Promises of reform have been made by previous governments without lasting results. ... The ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, once appeared a champion of democracy. But his government ... acquired a reputation for corruption, with Pakistan's financial resources allegedly flowing into foreign bank accounts. Such failures do not justify the coup, but explain why few protested."

The NYT believes that, in its words, "Musharraf should not make the mistake of Pakistan's last military dictator, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who prolonged his stay in power for 11 years and left his country's political and business mores more degraded than he found them. Instead," the paper concludes, Musharraf "should set a realistic timetable for genuine elections and let an independent judiciary decide any corruption cases. The idea of a tough military man imposing neat solutions for complex problems is appealing to Pakistan's long-suffering people. [But] it has never brought lasting progress."

BOSTON GLOBE: Musharraf needs to say how long his unconstitutional, unrepresentative government plans to stay in power

The Boston Globe, in its editorial on Pakistan, says: "What Pakistanis know ... is that the polity ruled by Nawaz Sharif, who as prime minister had been whittling down the powers of the presidency, the courts, and parliament, was democratic in name only." The paper adds: "If Musharraf's Security Council of two military leaders and four technocrats can clean up the corruption of the country's political system as promised, Pakistan will have a chance to take the first step on the path to economic recovery."

The Globe goes on to say: "Musharraf must end corruption and begin collecting enormous sums of unpaid taxes. He also needs to tell his compatriots and the international community how long his unconstitutional, unrepresentative government plans to stay in power. His silence on that subject was the greatest failing of his Sunday address to the nation."

The Boston Globe concludes: "Although he said he would thin out troops along the border with India and restrain nuclear testing, Musharraf also pledged support for 'our Kashmiri brethren.' But if he truly wants to save Pakistan from economic collapse and chaos, he will pursue a diplomatic resolution of its conflict with India over Kashmir."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Pakistan's battle is not between military and civilian rule

In the Los Angeles Times, South Asian specialist Paula Newberg says that when Musharraf seized power last week, in her words "the world breathed a collective sigh of recognition." She writes: "In one dangerous stroke, democracy has been paired with chaos and counterpoised with order. The view that imposed government offers an opportunity for stability in South Asia contrasts ... with statements from foreign governments [like the U.S. and EU members] that pay lip service to the formal structures of democratic rule." But, she adds, "between interpretations and mantras of civic republicanism lies the vast, complex and contradictory country of Pakistan."

Newberg goes on: "Pakistan's history is testament to the misperceptions with which its own citizens, and, even more, foreign interlocutors, have greeted it. Those who attest now to the corruptions of civilian government conveniently forget that the nexus of personal profit and political gain began under military rule in the 1960s." She adds: "Pakistan's history also offers a sad tale of political incompetence and dishonesty. ... Civic institutions ... have been undercut, time and again, by those who believe the courts should endorse the prerogatives of power."

Newberg sums up: "In short, Pakistan's battle is not between military and civilian rule, but between democracy and anything else. ... Democracy in Pakistan has two prerequisites. First, those who have been left out of politics must be offered a way in. ... Political parties and institutions must, finally, be opened to democratic participation. Second, outside interlocutors -- governments, banks, investors -- must recognize that plugging a few holes in a shaky dike cannot substitute for wholesale reform. Given Pakistan's history, that reform is likely to be revolutionary -- and [real] revolution is neither possible nor lasting without democracy."

Two British dailies today assess a report, released yesterday, on the implications of enlargement for the European Union. The report was written by three so-called "wise men" appointed by Romano Prodi, the new president of the EU's Executive Commission. The three are former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, former British minister Lord Simon and Richard von Weizsaecker, former German president.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Eastern applicants will have escaped from one bloc merely to be sucked into another

The Daily Telegraph is critical of the report, saying it advocates a deeper than ever integration of the union. British governments have hoped that EU expansion would slow the deeper integration of the union, the paper says, but the report shows that was "wishful thinking." The idea was that the disparity between present members and applicants would make it impossible for new members to meet all the EU's requirements. Thus "widening (the union) would be at the expense of deepening."

But the wise men's report urges, in the Telegraph's words, "a reform of EU institutions which would substantially reduce the role of the nation-state in [EU] policy-making. Among [the report's] recommendations are that qualified majority voting should be the rule and that for such procedures the [EU's] Parliament should have the power of co-decision. ... [Also,] a measure of the new powers envisaged for the Commission lies in a proposal that it, and not the country which holds the Union presidency, should draw up a draft treaty for [needed new internal EU reforms]."

The Telegraph writes further: "The report is right to describe enlargement as 'a historical challenge of fundamental importance,' but," it adds, "its proposals would make the Union less representative than ever. [It is clear that] most EU members see the opening to the east as a chance to lay the foundations of a European superstate. [Eastern] applicants will [therefore] have escaped from one bloc merely to be sucked into another."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Nobody has ever created anything quite like that before

The Financial Times is more welcoming of the wise men's report. It says that the EU's current member states want only what the Financial Times calls "a narrowly defined debate which will focus just on the structure and size of the European Commission, the voting weights [that is, number of votes in proportion to population size] of member states, and how far to extend majority voting." But even these sweeping questions, the paper argues, "do not go far enough."

The wise men, the FT continues, want much more: "a new treaty structure to ensure that the EU is not condemned to constitutional negotiations -- subject to individual national ratification -- every time it wants to change. They suggest a simplified core treaty -- in effect, an EU constitution -- and a series of more detailed sub-treaties, which will not be subject to national vetoes."

The FT believes that such "radical thinking is needed to ensure that [an expanded] EU is a workable structure. It needs to be flexible," the paper points out, "...but it also needs to set clear minimum rules for all members to observe." The editorial concludes: "Nobody has ever created anything quite like that before. That is why it is such a challenge."

LUEBECKER NACHRICHTEN: EU governments are keen to calm down fears of illegal immigration

Several German dailies comment briefly on the EU's weekend summit in Tampere, Finland, which dealt, among other subjects, with policies on asylum, refugees and organized crime. The Luebecker Nachrichten hails the EU leaders' agreement "to create a common asylum system and cooperate in fighting organized crime." It says that "EU governments are keen to calm down what they see as mounting popular fears [in their own countries] about illegal immigration, but nevertheless put off decisions on several related controversial issues."

Thus the summit, the paper says, "was not able to agree on establishing a separate EU fund to help member countries beset by sudden influxes of refugees. The proposal to do so, it says, "was stopped by Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder once the German delegation revealed that the intention behind the proposal was that the greater part of the funding would come from the Germans themselves."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: It will be difficult for the 15 partners to realize the program

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "The complexity of the judicial systems in the different EU member countries makes it difficult to forge a common legal system to fight organized crime and illegal immigration." The paper's editorial declares: "As long as EU member states are not willing to surrender national sovereignty and decisions on legal affairs have to be unanimous, it will be difficult for the 15 partners to realize the program spelled out at the Tampere summit."

HANDELSBLATT: EU governments are wary of surrendering national sovereignty

The national commercial daily Handelsblatt, published in Duesseldorf, observes that "arrangements for practical cooperation on justice and home affairs were far more difficult to reach than was an agreement on a common, internal European market." The paper explains: "EU governments have been wary of surrendering national sovereignty over their judicial systems and police forces, which have developed over a period of several hundred years." But the paper adds: "According to the EU treaty, an all-encompassing European judicial system should be in force before 2004. [Judging by the weekend summit in Finland, however,] it seems hardly possible to realize such an intention."