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Western Press Review: Challenges Of 'War On Terrorism'

Prague, 9 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today continues to focus on the U.S.-led offensive against military targets in Afghanistan, now in its second day. Several commentators discuss the challenges of the mission, and what its ultimate outcome might mean for the world and the "war on terrorism."


An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at the fragile position of Pakistan, which the paper says could become "the political epicenter of this unfolding conflict." The editorial cautions that U.S.-led forces could "win the military confrontation in Afghanistan but lose the war if Pakistan, with its 142 million people and nuclear weapons, falls under the control of Islamic fundamentalists." It says that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- who yesterday dismissed two aides who helped bring him to power two years ago and managed Pakistan's close ties to the Taliban -- has "added kindling to a highly combustible political climate."

The "Times" adds that the West should "be mindful of General Musharraf's fragile position." It writes: "Musharraf has generally exercised restraint toward those in his country who do not support the new alliance with the United States. Demonstrations, in turn, have been noisy but restrained. But the general needs to remember the dangers of cracking down on dissent, which can easily provoke more turmoil, particularly among the well-financed religious parties."


In "The Wall Street Journal's" Asian edition, a contribution by Najam Sethi, editor of the Lahore-based weekly "Friday Times," looks at the reasons behind Pakistan's intense concern over Afghanistan's fate. Sethi notes that Pakistani President Musharraf has called for a "rehabilitated Afghanistan with a new broad-based government whose formation would be 'facilitated' rather than imposed by the West."

Sethi writes: "Pakistan [is] ringed by India -- which is Hindu and deemed hostile -- and Iran, which is Shiite Muslim and deemed untrustworthy. Pakistan therefore feels that a new government in Kabul dominated by the opposition Northern Alliance, whose constituent Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minority communities have received economic and military assistance from both Iran and India, would compromise its national security."

With the demise of the Taliban "imminent," he says, the search is on to find the "right" ethnic Pashtun-dominated government for Kabul. Sethi suggests that Pakistan's "best bet would be to join hands with the international community to help establish a truly broad-based and decentralized federal government in Kabul, in which the various ethnic communities have a great deal of regional autonomy. This would have to include Afghan oppositionists in the Northern Alliance, as well as moderate remnants of the Taliban regime and other Pashtun commanders close to Pakistan."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Guenther Nonnenmacher looks at the allies in the new antiterrorism coalition, and suggests that the West should not be too optimistic when considering its new partners. Nonnenmacher says this is not an alliance at all, but "a loose coalition of interests that have converged for a moment."

He then considers the members one by one. He writes: "Some have entered the coalition because they have no other choice. This applies above all to Pakistan." Pakistan supported the Taliban -- and will need to be allies with whatever government eventually reigns in Kabul -- to make up for its lack of strategic alliances with its other neighbors, archenemy India and Iran. Saudi Arabia is dependent on protection from the American fleet in the Persian Gulf; Egypt is similarly dependent on Western financial aid.

Nonnenmacher goes on to say that other states joined the coalition to promote certain interests. China was given membership in the WTO; Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to re-position the war in Chechnya as a war on terrorists. The Central Asian states, for their part, seek to legitimize their own battles against Islamic extremism and hope to balance Russia's influence through their new partnership with the United States.

Concluding that the antiterrorism coalition members are all motivated by self-interest, Nonnenmacher writes: "No one should entertain false hopes. A coalition arising from the outdated realpolitik of the nation-state system will hardly provide the impulse for a new world order."


In "Eurasia View," journalist Lara Parpan considers the advice of national security analyst Richard Betts regarding the war on terrorism. Betts suggests that a strong show of restraint, designed to assuage public opinion in the Muslim world, might actually do more to provoke fresh terrorist attacks than to prevent them.

If the U.S. reacts with less force than is anticipated, it will be assumed to be weak, he explains. Parpan quotes him as saying, "Retaliation is definitely risky but the risks of maximum restraint are far greater than the risks of provocation."

Parpan writes: "America's objectives in pursuing a campaign against international terrorism in Afghanistan are twofold: to punish the masterminds of [the 11 September attacks], thus deterring potential perpetrators of attacks on civilians," and to -- quoting Betts -- "avoid provoking more Arabs and Muslims to see the United States as the enemy."

But Betts adds: "We can proclaim all we want that the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not a war against Islam. But the Muslims who believe this are the ones who are not such a problem to begin with." Parpan says that it is too late to defuse the anger that certain Arabs or Muslims feel toward the United States. She writes: "The United States' military presence in Saudi Arabia, its support of Israel in the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and the treatment of Iraqi citizens under U.S.-led sanctions have fueled much resentment against it."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" carries an editorial in which Stefan Kornelius says the videotaped reaction of the Taliban and the bin Laden group to the U.S. military strikes on Afghanistan shows the kind of propaganda to be expected in the near future. In addition to the diplomatic and political pressure, the U.S. has chosen to exert military pressure, he says. But following all the analyses of the past week concerning the aims of the bombing, it would be surprising if Washington opts for a long military campaign.

America, advises Kornelius, must also be focused on destabilizing Afghanistan and the bin Laden group. But the attacks must be accompanied by indications to those who are suffering in Afghanistan that the attacks are aimed at the tyrants, not the tyrannized.

Kornelius says that we should consider the deeper causes for Islamic violence: poverty, failures in government, exaggerated cultural demands, false alliances, and politics guided by vested interests. All this will have to be taken into account to attain long-term stabilization. "But here and now, the world is faced with a danger that requires a fast reaction," he says.


An editorial in "Le Monde" says that leaders of the Arab nations allied with the United States in the coalition against terrorism are in a very difficult situation, pulled between internal anti-American public opinion and the governments' dependence on the United States.

The French daily writes: "The day after the bombardment of Afghanistan, two of the principle American allies in the region, Egypt and Jordan, limited themselves to prudent declarations, [while] Washington's other significant ally, Saudi Arabia, maintained a silence."

"Le Monde" says that in many ways, the Arab world feels cheated by the West. The paper cites political analyst Antoine Basbous as saying that when Cairo joined the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in 1990, the key to its support was the promise of a Palestinian state. This never happened, and today many Arabs feel betrayed.

"Le Monde" also quotes Basbous as saying that following the first strikes, Arab leaders of the nations allied with the U.S. are dreading the possibility of "a war of attrition," into which they believe Osama bin Laden wants to pull the U.S. Basbous says that another danger will soon arise because "to strike a Muslim country during Ramadan [which begins in mid-November] would allow bin Laden to gain a little more from Arab opinion."


In "The New York Times," James Bennet considers Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's decision to use deadly force against Palestinians demonstrating in support of Osama bin Laden yesterday (8 October). Bennet says that in doing this, Arafat has taken "a gamble" on the West, to strengthen his own position "and assert his international credibility as the possible leader of a Palestinian state."

Bennet calls Arafat's decision "the most dramatic evidence to date that the terrorist attacks on the United States have dented the entrenched thinking of the enemies in the conflict [in the Middle East] and created a new chance for peace at the same time as causing a spike in violence."

Bennet goes on to note that both U.S. and Israeli leaders have repeatedly appealed for Arafat to stem extremism by arresting, or re-arresting, members of radical factions such as Hamas. He writes: "If Mr. Arafat does crack down on militants -- to protect himself, to promote peace, or both -- then it is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel who will be put to the test. The world may learn if has been seeking to provoke civil war among the Palestinians, as some Palestinians believe, or whether he wants a secure peace, as he says."


In "The Boston Globe," columnist H.D.S. Greenway looks at the reasons for religious extremism, both in Muslim countries and in the West. He quotes Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University as writing that some Muslim factions have considered the modern world "defiled," with its "wild cities, shocking cultural trends, foreigners with alien ways, [young] men and women who have strayed from time-honored ways...."

Greenway adds: "Since the end of the Cold War and the beginning of globalization, America has emerged as the symbol of everything that has gone wrong for them. Many Muslims go back to their religious roots because their societies have not given them any answers. Western secularism, Marxism, nationalism have all, in their view, let them down. They look at their own rulers as corrupt, hypocritical sellers of their country to Western (read American) interests. The vast majority are nonviolent and lead constructive lives. Only a very few turn to terror."

But fundamentalism is not restricted to Muslim countries. Hindu fundamentalism is a rising force in India, and Israel has also been seeing a rise of Jewish fundamentalism in recent years. And in the United States, Greenway writes, "the fearful, confused, left-behinds in [U.S.] society turn to militia movements in their fear of a changing world in which they see themselves as losers."

He continues: "Rapid change and the feelings of being powerless and left behind in an evolving world have driven hundreds of thousands [to] seek solace in religion, and some to violence in the name of religion. It helps explain what motivated 19 young men to destroy themselves and so many Americans on 11 September."

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