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Western Press Review: Uneasy Alliances In The Coalition Against Terror

Prague, 28 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The focus of commentary in the Western press today continues to center on Afghanistan, widely expected to be the subject of a retaliatory response from the U.S. for the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Analysis also focuses on what role Saudi Arabia will play in the emerging coalition against terrorism. Other topics addressed include the situation in Chechnya, highlighted once again by the declared war on terrorism, and what recent elections in Poland will mean for its economy.


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" considers the long-time alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It says that in the declared war on terrorism, perhaps no nation is more important to U.S. objectives than Saudi Arabia.

"As the biggest oil exporter in the world, Saudi Arabia is the leader of the moderate Arab states," it writes. But relations between the two nations are delicate, says the paper. Saudi Arabia faces many internal pressures, such as a corrupt monarchy and what the paper calls "an upsurge in Islamic fundamentalists who view the country as a vassal of the United States."

The paper writes that Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the U.S. attacks, has also targeted Saudi Arabia's monarchy, which it says "would [have] drastic consequences for the U.S. and the rest of the industrial world." The paper goes on to suggest that the coalition against terrorism will require more intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia than in the past.

But the paper goes on to say that "having U.S. Air Force planes based in Saudi Arabia may not be as necessary as during the defense of neighboring Kuwait. In a long and complex war, the U.S. must husband its resources. The time to push the Saudis has not yet arrived."


An analysis in "The Economist" looks at the religious situation in Saudi Arabia and its effect on the nation's politics. The magazine notes that the ruling monarchy has often come under criticism for its secular practices, as well as for its close ties with the United States. It notes that in the past, the royal family has been shielded from such censure by its close relations with the puritanical Wahhabi sect.

Whenever Islamist protest was on the increase, says the weekly, "the regime's standard response was to co-opt its critics by burnishing its Islamic credentials." But this policy seems to have backfired, says "The Economist."

"The net result is that the clergy -- many of them reactionary by Western standards -- now wield enormous sway over everything from school curriculums to municipal building codes. And, in foreign policy, Saudi Arabia has long tried to cast itself as the global sponsor of conservative Islam. Hence its support for movements such as the Taliban. That policy has now come home to roost," says the weekly. "Although violent fanaticism is just what the government was hoping to avoid, it seems to arise fairly directly from the sort of uncompromising religiosity the government has encouraged."


In the French daily "Le Monde," Patrice de Beer looks at the new, uneasy alliance between Pakistan and the United States, formed in the wake of the declaration of the war on terrorism. Throughout their relationship, says de Beer, the U.S. has variously lost and renewed its interest in the region. Having known of Pakistan's nuclear capability since 1996 and the risk of proliferation, writes de Beer, "The Americans were stuck, obliged to decree penalties while knowing Pakistan would not take them into account..."

Throughout the 1990s, says de Beer, all Pakistani indicators "were in the red. Crumbling under the weight of its military budget, Pakistan watched its economy collapse." Muslim extremism in the country became what de Beer calls the "compost for a new terrorism: It is in the Koranic schools of Pakistan that the Taliban was formed before coming to power, [with] the blind complicity of Washington."

The United States had once again lost interest in the region, as New Delhi replaced Islamabad as its main partner. Under sanctions for their nuclear policy, and worked on by a small but active minority, the Pakistanis became increasingly anti-American. De Beer concludes by noting that now, once again, Washington's interest is on the rise as it needs Islamabad's help in the "anti-bin Laden crusade."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" considers reports that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is undecided on whether to overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, in addition to capturing suspect Osama bin Laden.

The editorial notes that some officials within the administration, notably Secretary of State Colin Powell, favor focusing on bin Laden and his network, and see the overthrow of the Taliban as unnecessary to overall counter-terrorism aims. The editorial says that Bush must make good on his pledge to track down terrorists, as well as the states that protect them. To do one without the other, it says, would indicate that the antiterrorism coalition was "not serious."

The paper writes: "If the U.S. can't oust the Taliban, there isn't much hope of removing other, more sturdy terrorist states. By some estimates, the Taliban is supported by only 10 percent of the Afghan people." In addition, there is the consideration of what the U.S. would do regarding the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, should it help in finding bin Laden.

"Surely we'd have some obligation to our allies not to let their oppressors remain in power," writes the paper.

The paper concludes: "The goals of any war are both political and military. Whatever bin Laden's fate, America's goal of ending terrorism won't end until the political sponsors of terrorism are ousted. That starts, but doesn't end, with the Taliban."


A "New York Times" editorial takes an opposing view, warning of the dangers involved in toppling the Taliban regime. It warns that to do so could destabilize Afghanistan and spread that instability to neighboring nations. As the editorial states: "[Engineering] the ouster of the Taliban, which have let Osama bin Laden hide out in Afghanistan for years, could engulf Afghanistan in civil war, aggravate a growing refugee crisis on Afghanistan's borders and even destabilize Pakistan. Any of these developments would embolden terrorists and undercut American interests."

The paper goes on to acknowledge that the Taliban is, for some, "a tempting target." Many Afghans have suffered under the harsh rule of the Taliban. But direct American action in its politics also risks igniting an upheaval in Pakistan.

The paper writes: "Although now aligned with the United States, Pakistan fears that an effort to overthrow the Taliban would provoke a rebellion by Pashtuns in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province. It would not take much to turn that political tinder into a firestorm that consumes the government of General Pervez Musharraf."

The paper advises: "Washington should not expect American soldiers to be greeted as liberators if they move into Afghanistan. An effort to depose the Taliban, if it comes to that, has to be designed with great care."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" editorial considers Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent speech to the German parliament in Berlin. The paper says that, although he denounced the attack on the U.S. and pledged his support for the coalition against terrorism, Putin "blamed the failure to prevent [the attack] on the world's dependence on the 'old security measures' of the Cold War, such as NATO. He called for a 'comprehensive, purposeful and well-coordinated struggle against terrorism,' but insisted that it could take place only if it were conducted under an international security system restructured to give Russia more influence."

Putin hopes these initiatives "will win the West's acceptance, or at least stifle its criticism, of his steps to limit Russian press freedom and democracy and of his brutal military campaign in Chechnya. So far he seems to be succeeding," says the paper.

"[German] Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder could barely contain his enthusiasm, telling reporters that the West needed to 're-evaluate' Chechnya and hinting that Russian membership in NATO should be considered."

Putin's attempts to characterize his campaign in Chechnya as part of the war on terrorism are misguided, the paper suggests. "[There] is a difference between international terrorist organizations and Chechen rebels fighting for independence," it writes, while noting that Putin has previously rejected offers of negotiations with the Chechen rebels.

The paper concludes: "The United States should make clear that if Mr. Putin really desires partnership with the West, he must talk to that Chechen leadership."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," "International Politik" editor Elizabeth Pond considers the effect of the 23 September general elections on Poland's economy. She writes: "Counterintuitive as it may sound, the ex-communists [the Democratic Left Alliance, or SLD] who won last Sunday's election in Poland will do much better at economic reform than the Solidarity government they deposed. And they might even get laggard Warsaw moving fast enough to join the European Union in its first admission wave of Central European members three or four years from now."

But Pond goes on to say that the SLD's task of finishing market reforms "will not be easy, especially since the party will most likely rule as a minority government rather than take on a difficult coalition partner from the nationalist, populist parties. Those parties," she says, "won a third of the popular vote and are bringing into the Sejm their suspicions of Europe and of too big a dose of capitalism."

But Pond notes that the Civic Party Platform has pledged its support on economic and financial matters. The Democratic Left Alliance is truly committed to change, says Pond. She writes: "In the current context, the SLD not only believes in liberal economic reform. It has the Polish pride to carry it through."