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Western Press Review: In Light of Attacks, Pakistan and Afghanistan Move Into Focus

Prague, 18 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press remains centered on the events of 11 September, when hijacked airliners crashed into major landmarks in New York and Washington, D.C., killing more than 5,000 people. Attention is becoming increasingly focused on both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as new alliances are forged and the Taliban considers its response to a U.S. demand to turn over Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, whom it considers the leading suspect in the attacks.


In the "Wall Street Journal Europe," columnist George Melloan says it is essential not to demonize all Muslims as enemies and warns against creating this perception. "An American jihad against the entire Muslim world would play into the hands of the terrorists by radicalizing entire populations. If that happens," he says, "the battle is lost."

For this reason, says Melloan, U.S. President George W. Bush should be wary of aid from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former Soviet Union oppressed a large Muslim population in Central Asia and attempted to expand that oppression in 1979 by invading Afghanistan, he writes. The ensuing war "bred deep hatreds and was the training ground for Osama bin Laden and his Muslim fanatics of today." A perceived close alliance between the U.S. and Russia could reawaken old resentments.

Melloan goes on to say that "a war on terrorism must be tightly focused. Bombing Kabul and Kandahar, the two principle Afghan cities, would serve no purpose." What must be done, he suggests, is to go after the terrorist training camps of Osama bin Laden -- with or without the consent of the Taliban.

A highly focused strategy would also have the support of parts of the Muslim world. Melloan writes: "In countries striving for political stability and Western acceptance, such as Pakistan, local leaders will quietly welcome U.S. help in destroying these cells of [bin Laden's Al Qaeda movement]. But they will only welcome that help if they have some assurance that it will be effective."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Erhard Haubold says that whatever happens in the near future in Afghanistan, the power balance on the Indian subcontinent is about to change radically. Pakistan, a nuclear power, must do a delicate balancing act. If its president, General Pervez Musharraf, does not handle his newly pledged alliance with the U.S. carefully, he could face a revolt and be replaced by Islamic fundamentalist forces in his own country.

Haubold writes: "Links with Islamabad, once a staunch ally, are being forged anew. The United States needs Pakistan's logistical support and its intelligence service that previously nurtured the Taliban." In return, the U.S. has offered a moratorium on its debt and a relaxation of sanctions imposed after Pakistan conducted nuclear tests.

But Haubold asks: "What will happen if the world's most wanted man, [Osama bin Laden], is caught or killed? Will the United States again abandon Pakistan as it did at the end of the 1980s, when the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan, leaving it with thousands of machine guns, a drug culture and radical Islam?"


Writing in "Die Welt," Martin van Creveld considers America's options in the current situation. Because America is the mightiest power in the world, it has made many enemies, he says. And in countering these hostile attitudes, the issue is power, not morality. He says that, "In considering the correct action, it is wise to treat these two aspects separately."

Creveld says that no great power can permit attacks like the ones experienced in New York and Washington to go unanswered if it wants to continue to be a great power. But the question is how to respond adequately and effectively.

The goal, it is being said, is to root out Islamic terrorists who have support in many countries. Provided the U.S. forgoes the use of atomic weapons, it just does not have the forces at its disposal to strike at all of these countries. Hence, the United States is obliged to forge a coalition with such countries as Pakistan and some Arab countries.

Creveld also rejects the idea of sending ground troops into Afghanistan. He says this would prove very costly in terms of lives and money and, in the end, would not bring about the desired result. Creveld concludes that options are extremely limited. He also cites America's experience in Vietnam as further evidence that a ground war would not be effective.

The only advice Creveld offers is for the United States to, first and foremost, assure its own security -- which has hitherto been "exceptionally sloppy."


In "Eurasia View," author and journalist Ahmed Rashid considers Pakistan's options in the wake of the U.S. attacks. After several years of supporting the Taliban politically, materially, and financially, Pakistan is now being asked by the U.S. to help attack Afghanistan with the aim of eliminating Osama bin Laden and toppling the Taliban regime. The U.S. has also presented President Perez Musharraf with a list of demands that will both facilitate any U.S. action in Afghanistan and test Pakistan's resolve to stand by the U.S. and the Western alliance.

Rashid writes: "If Musharraf decides to fall in line with U.S. policy, he will receive widespread support from the majority of Pakistanis, who are tired of the country's dire economic crisis, chronic lawlessness and a trend towards the 'Talibanization' of Pakistani society, caused by Islamic extremists." In addition, he says, Islamabad might "still be able to influence the outcome of the U.S. attack and may retain influence to determine the possible future Afghan government."

If Pakistan does not fall into line with U.S. policy, the U.S. is unlikely to agree to Pakistani demands. Rashid writes: "Musharraf is between a rock and a hard place and the way he goes could determine the future viability of the Pakistani state." This, he concludes, "is a moment of reckoning for Pakistan. It has to decide whether it wants to be part of the international community or wants to go it alone with all the risks involved, including the state's possible collapse and it being labeled a pariah nation."


In the "Financial Times," Edward Luce and Farhan Bokhari write that Pakistani President Musharraf will find it "difficult, if not impossible, to offer Pakistani territory as a launch pad for a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Indeed, many in Pakistan expressed outrage at the list of demands that Washington presented to Islamabad last week. The list, which Islamabad broadly accepted, included a reference to the U.S. using Pakistani territory."

Accommodating the U.S. while also appeasing certain Islamic factions in Pakistan and beyond, the authors say, forces Musharraf to walk a very fine line. They write: "Observers say that domestic considerations would compel General Musharraf to confine Pakistan's role to that of logistical support rather than a full-blown partner in any military invasion of Afghanistan. That might include the provision of Pakistani airspace, the supply of Pakistani intelligence on Afghanistan, and -- under severe pressure -- possible transit facilities for a U.S.-led ground force. But even this could provoke opposition."


An analysis in "Le Monde" says the Taliban is facing internal divisions even as international forces, led by the United States, continue to mount against them. The French daily notes that the vice president of the Taliban council of ministers, Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhond, declared yesterday (Monday) that the Taliban's jihad, or crusade, against the U.S. had officially resumed. Today, the Taliban completely contradicted this statement, but added that they would not rule out a jihad if the U.S. were to attack a Muslim country. What "Le Monde" calls these "dueling communiques" among the high dignitaries of the regime illustrate the crisis within the Taliban.

This crisis, the paper says, has been heightened by Pakistan's decision to ally itself on the side of the Americans, a stance indicated by the Pakistan delegation traveling to Afghanistan to relay messages from the U.S. The paper says: "For Kabul, it is necessary that bin Laden is extradited to an Islamic state and can receive a fair trial." But it adds: "shaken by the reversal of its principal supporter in the region, the Taliban regime has lost a bit of unity."


The "Wall Street Journal's" Asian edition carries a contribution by the former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, G. Parasarathy. He says that a successful mission in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden will take a unified effort by the world's nations. He writes: "The Bush administration has commenced a concerted diplomatic effort to build an international coalition to fight terrorism. It is imperative that Afghanistan's neighbors -- Russia; the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; China and India -- are actively drawn into such a coalition. Given its antipathy toward bin Laden and his Taliban backers, President Mohammad Khatami's Iran will tacitly support such moves. The aim should be to surround and isolate terrorists and their supporters within Afghanistan."

Parasarathy goes on to note that as Pakistan's Musharraf was agreeing to U.S. requests regarding the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his family "quietly went into hiding" away from his home in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He writes: "The effort to get at bin Laden and dismantle his network is going to be a long haul. Operations out of Pakistan will be largely covert and aimed at locating, targeting and eliminating bin Laden and sections of the Taliban leadership that are close to him. But in an ultimate analysis," he says, "there can be no lasting solution until the Taliban is replaced by a broad-based representative government in Afghanistan."


Commentator Stefan Kornelius entitles his editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" titled "Hated Friend." He writes: "Since the United States was created, Americanism has been an accompanying phenomenon, and thus, anti-Americanism was subsequently discovered." Americanism, he continues, comprises both a sense of having a political mission -- the profound conviction of its guarded democratic and freedom-loving system, and its cultural and economic obligation and the power of mass culture. The U.S. also projects an image which many seek to emulate, but the recipe for the success of this system has a naive and, hence, provocative effect.

Having defined his view of the U.S., the writer then goes on to explain the opposition -- the hatred. The U.S. is experiencing the failure of its policies in the Middle East, its insensibility toward Islam. Hate for the U.S. has now been documented forever as a signal of fanaticism, which has been intensifying and has caused a wild outbreak of anti-Americanism. Kornelius writes: "When the Cold War came to an end and the political order of the Western world strengthened, America's super might became all-pervasive" -- there was no opposite pole in the world to put a brake on it. America reacted -- as so often happens when radical changes occur -- by increasingly ignoring the rest of the planet, he says. But the political authority, the cultural and economic power, has not been minimized and, in the end, this has led to more anti-Americanism.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)