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Western Press Review: From Pakistan To Caucasus And Balkans

Prague, 12 October 2001, (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today considers the tenuous situation in Pakistan, as pro-Taliban demonstrations continue against the backdrop of U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan. Attention also turns to the Caucasus, where a recent upsurge of violence in Georgia threatens to destabilize the region. Other issues addressed include the Balkans, Ukraine, and how the map of Europe may be redrawn as a result of the "war on terrorism."


An analysis in this week's edition of "The Economist" considers Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf's position as the leader of a country that remains sharply divided on the campaign against terrorism. The Taliban has a significant number of supporters in Pakistan who are strongly opposed to the country's joining the U.S.-led war on terror, although reports indicating their actual numbers vary.

Musharraf himself has assured the West that his grip on power is secure. "The Economist" writes: "General Musharraf, who has dealt gingerly with fundamentalist politicians since taking power two years ago, is now cracking down. The government has arrested or confined to their homes three of the country's most vociferous fundamentalist leaders. [So] far, the government is controlling the demonstrations without too much trouble, though that could change if the Afghan war drags out and gets more bloody."

The magazine goes on to say that Pakistan's liberals "hope that the government will use a showdown with the fundamentalist right to put an end to Pakistan's long flirtation with religious extremism." But it adds that "the price of moderation may be a uniformed president for a long time to come."


A contribution to "Eurasia View" by EurasiaNet Editor Justin Burke examines the renewed instability in the Caucasus. Georgian and Abkhaz separatists are mobilizing to resume their conflict, he says. At the same time, Russian leaders are claiming that the Georgian government has lost control, which Burke says is "an ominous indicator that Russian forces may intervene in the brewing conflict." Recent statements by Russian leaders seem to be laying the groundwork for military intervention, he says. Russia has long accused Georgia of providing Chechen separatists with a safe haven near the Georgian frontier with Chechnya.

Burke says the current upheaval in Georgia stands to help Russia's strategic objectives in the Caucasus in two ways. He writes: "First, it provides the Russian military with a pretext to move into Georgian territory in pursuit of Chechen militants, should Moscow desire to do so. [Secondly,] instability in Georgia stands to dash hopes for the construction of the [Baku-Ceyhan] pipeline, which would bring energy resources from the Caspian Basin to Turkey via Georgia. A rival pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossisk opened October 1. If Baku-Ceyhan cannot be built, Russia would effectively remain the gatekeeper of energy export routes in the Caspian Basin, thereby exerting considerable influence over geopolitical developments in the region."


One of the editorials in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the prevailing fear of further terrorist attacks. Now the word "terror" is in the air, but it notes the FBI claims the outbreak of three cases of Anthrax infection in Boca Raton, Florida, is more likely to be a criminal act and not the continuation of "a battle against America."

There persists a general feeling of panic, the editorial remarks, but it says the probability a terrorist would resort to bacterium and viruses rather than bombs is very slight due to the difficulty involved in producing and spreading them. "By comparison, explosives in letters, cars or planes can kill far more people," it says.

But the editorial goes on to say that one cannot rule out that terrorists would resort to biological weapons. The commentary suggests that "an effective bio-weapon convention could make this more difficult. On the other hand, unlike the chemical weapons agreement, there are loopholes. Above all," it says, "because of American opposition, there are no effective checks on laboratories."


A Stratfor commentary says Russia is "poised to dominate" the European energy sector. Russia's Gazprom, the world's largest natural-gas firm, began production on 5 October at the Zapolyarnoye field in western Siberia and began deliveries to the Netherlands on the same day. Stratfor says, "These two events will allow Russia to engage in a flurry of new infrastructure development and make Gazprom a much more attractive investment partner for global energy firms.

The events also mark a sea change in the region's energy politics. [The] bulk of Europe's future energy supplies will be Russian in origin. This will lead to more joint partnerships between Russia and Western -- mostly European -- energy companies."

Stratfor says these events "signal a shift in the balance of power between Europe and Russia. Europe now has no choice but to invest in Russia's natural gas industry to keep its own economies functioning."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" calls Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's reaction to the possibility that a Ukrainian missile brought down a Russian airliner on 4 October "cynical" and "insensitive." While the cause of the crash remains officially unknown, the editorial says the "most likely explanation" is that a Ukrainian missile went off course during military exercises. The paper criticizes Ukrainian authorities for reacting with a lack of concern. It writes: "Ukraine's defense minister and President Kuchma insisted that a missile hit was impossible. They gave journalists a slide show to demonstrate no missile could have hit the plane. The show was not convincing and at the start of this week President Kuchma began preparing an about-face. [Since] then, President Kuchma seems to be inching closer to an acknowledgement that the explosion was the fault of a military exercise gone awry."

But the paper says, "Ukraine's government will need to do better than that. [If] suspicions are confirmed, this will be the second time in 18 months the Ukrainian military has killed innocent civilians in a missile exercise." In 2000 an off-course missile hit an apartment block in Brovary, killing four. If this case turns out to be similar, it says, one will be "tempted to conclude that Ukraine has no business with weapons its military cannot properly control."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" deals with perceptions of what is aired in the media. Discussion in the press was prompted by the broadcast of a video by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden on television stations. The editorial says, "Of course such appearances cause concern, as bin Laden's message heightens apprehensions among the threatened with every minute on the air." It could also be argued that the soft-spoken demeanor of bin Laden impresses the Muslim world, says the paper. And it gives the criminals an opportunity to present themselves. The danger also cannot be ruled out that such an appearance contains an underlying message regarding further terrorist actions.

Nevertheless, says the commentary, this is not sufficient reason not to transmit "uncensored" bin Laden communications, as the White House has suggested. This does not quite qualify as censorship, says the paper, but it is "a shortsighted self-limitation."

Instructions on further terrorist attacks can be made in other ways, it says. There are better methods of responding to fear than by suppressing TV images. The paper concludes: "Crude messages, too, contain information, not least about their sender. Viewers should be in a position to draw their own conclusions about bin Laden and his followers."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vitomir Miles Raguz, former ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the EU and NATO, looks at Washington's shifting foreign policy in the Balkan region in the wake of the 11 September U.S. attacks. The U.S. may need to increase its presence in the region, he says, as part of its campaign against terrorism. "The presence of extremist Islamic elements, mostly outsiders left over from the Bosnian war, that pose a threat to NATO's troops, and a resumption of factional fighting that drains the U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities, are serious concerns," he writes. "Washington would also like to change the region's reputation as a main transit point for migration from the Middle East and other troubled regions to Europe, and in that way minimize the threat of new terrorist infiltration."

So far, says Raguz, NATO efforts to reduce threats posed by any extremist elements in the region and to check migration are getting help from local governments. He writes, "Such cooperation also means that NATO will be able to count on secure transit corridors over the region. However, the risk of instability that would tie up Western diplomatic, intelligence and military resources at a time when they are needed elsewhere will not go away unless festering [ethnic] group questions are addressed."


A piece in France's "Le Monde" considers British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent visit to several Middle East nations. "Le Monde" says the prime minister sought to emphasize that the events of 11 September would not succeed in dividing the Arab and Western worlds. On the contrary, Blair asserted, this fight would unite people of all faiths, all political beliefs, to defend the "values of civilization." The paper says that for his part, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made a point of saying that all countries must stop accommodating "terrorists" -- stop assisting, stop financing, and stop granting rights of citizenship under the guise of political or humanitarian concerns. The paper says that this was a pointed reference to the United Kingdom, to which Egypt has been appealing, for the past 10 years, to hand over Egyptian extremists in exile there.

"Le Monde" says the British prime minister was also eager to prove that he had not abandoned the Palestinians, as well as making it clear that Western countries might lose the propaganda battle in the Arab world against support for Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks. "As if to support this assertion," it writes, "A Saudi newspaper reported Thursday, October 11, that Saudi Arabia had asked Mr. Blair to cancel his visit to the realm."


In the "International Herald Tribune," John Vinocur looks at the shifting international roles of major European allies in the coalition against terror. Vinocur says that this situation "offers the opportunity for Britain, Germany and Russia to break old, confining molds and move toward redefinitions of their international status." Britain has sought to take a new leadership role in Europe, borne out by Prime Minister Tony Blair's vigorous diplomatic attempts and active military involvement. Germany has similarly pledged a willingness to become fully involved militarily. Vinocur says that Russia, in helping the U.S. with its approach to Central Asia, has, in his words, "secured a powerful argument for its eventual entry into NATO. That notion," he says, "would require not only a refashioned alliance, but in a challenge to reflex and convention, a general rethinking of the shape of all European institutions."

In contrast, Vinocur says, France seems headed only for "reduced relevance." It has been unable to decide on a method of participation, he says, and as a result is "barely engaged" in the campaign. Vinocur writes: "At the same time, Britain, Germany, and Russia moved with real measures of clarity and assurance in response to the terrorist challenge. If their action in relation to Afghanistan eventually enhances their national strategic goals, it will have been the result not only of opportunism but considerable commitment and risk."

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