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Western Press Review: What Does Future Hold For Afghanistan?

Prague, 16 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press continues to focus on the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Several analysts have turned their attention to examining whether a well-considered political and diplomatic effort will follow the military phase of the campaign, and what kind of Western involvement this might entail.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Wolfgang Guenther Lerch questions whether the coalition against terror has adequately considered what will follow the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Lerch says that the West's past military interventions have "suffered from a lack of clear, practical ideas for a subsequent political order." He notes that it has been widely suggested the West should promote a civil democratic society in post-Taliban Afghanistan. But Lerch says, "This is the West telling people what to do again, the very thing that terrorists are not alone in rejecting."

Other Middle Eastern conflicts need a new approach also, he says. Lerch remarks that in acknowledging the need for a Palestinian state, U.S. President George W. Bush has merely confirmed what Lerch calls "an old truth that everybody who studies the region already knows." He adds: "Only Palestinian self-determination in a sovereign state enjoying equal rights can remove the worst tensions from the region and, above all, the pretexts for violence." A renewed attempt to help the Palestinians would make a positive impression in the Middle East, Lerch says, adding that this help would require a major international effort, as well as substantial pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians.


Stefan Kornelius, writing in the "Sueddeutche Zeitung," says the U.S. air attacks on Afghanistan must now be followed up by diplomatic pressure. The commentary argues that all regional wars in past years have shown that either they must be won quickly or they cannot be won at all. It can therefore not come as a surprise that the coalition is growing impatient with the U.S. And it also is no wonder that in America itself people are asking for a tangible result to the bombing.

Kornelius writes: "The West would like to be free of terrorist threats, but equally it would like to be free of the burden of war which, as do all wars in this world, costs the lives of innocent people. Now it is being admitted that the two are incompatible: to be free of terror and simultaneously free of a bad conscience."

It is therefore high time for the air raids to introduce a stronger political strategy, says Kornelius. A strong political signal from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is needed to develop the power of the coalition. And if Afghan groups were to rise against their rulers it would provide a mighty sign to the rest of the Islamic world, he says. They would see that it is possible "to isolate fanatics in one's own society." This kind of political strategy also requires endurance and patience. Kornelius says that this is a period of insecurity, "but security will not improve if America retreats." He adds, "On the contrary, irresolution would be seen by the bin Laden gang as an invitation for still more terror."


In a contribution to "Eurasia View," George Mason University government and politics Professor Mark Katz writes that while the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition might succeed in achieving its immediate military objectives in Afghanistan, it will lose the wider campaign if it does not address some of the beliefs prevalent in the Muslim world. Katz says that the U.S. may be unwittingly fostering the spread of radical Islamic ideas across the region. He notes that Muslims harbor many grievances against the United States: Many believe U.S. support for Israel is causing the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank. Others suspect that American support props up numerous corrupt, repressive governments in the Middle East, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Katz says that the U.S. and the West need to take action to address the Muslim world's grievances to avoid creating a new generation of radicals.

He writes: "The United States can actively encourage the democratization of allied Muslim governments. Also, Washington should act to accelerate the Arab-Israeli peace process, and should encourage peaceful settlements to the conflicts in Chechnya, Kashmir, and Uighurstan. If the United States does not actively support democratization and conflict resolution," says Katz, "then moderate Muslims [will] have a tough time refuting extremists' portrayal of America as the enemy of the Muslims."


In "The Christian Science Monitor," Central Asia and Caucasus analyst Frederick Starr writes that any new regime in Kabul, "must meet four conditions: First, it must represent the entire country and not just one or a couple of its many ethnic groups. Second, it must be out of the terrorism business. Third, it must be committed to wiping out the opium poppy crop. And fourth, it must meet some minimal international standard of human rights."

"Only Afghans themselves can create such a government," he says. "The United States and other countries must stay out of the [process]. Over the centuries, Afghans have proved to be masters at manipulating foreign powers attempting to shape their government from the outside. [But] the U.S. must be prepared to recognize any government that meets these conditions. And it must even now provide firm assurances that it will organize and help fund major international assistance."

Religious and ethnic conflict stems from the root problem of poverty, says Starr. He writes: "This is true not only of Afghanistan, but of impoverished and conflict-torn mountain regions worldwide, including the Balkans, Chechnya, Chiapas in Mexico, Colombia, Kashmir, Nepal, Peru and Tajikistan." Education can prove key to alleviating this poverty, he says. Education can "make the difference between hope and the despair that breeds religious and ethnic conflict -- and terrorism."


In "The Boston Globe," columnist H.D.S. Greenway says the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism launched on 7 October began in what Greenway calls "its crudest and, in the end, least effective form: an air war over Afghanistan; necessary, perhaps, but tailor-made to bolster the David-vs.-Goliath image of bin Laden."

Greenway says there are three crucial interconnected problems to which the coalition must turn its attention. He writes that the U.S. "need not stand by and give the administration of [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon a green light to do anything it wants. [We] need to make clear to the Palestinians that there is a future for them: an end to the Israeli occupation and a Palestinian state."

Secondly, Greenway says that Western powers should do their diplomatic best to solve the Kashmir conflict, calling it "arguably the most dangerous flash point in the world."

Lastly, he says the antiterror campaign also must not repeat past mistakes "by walking away from the coming power vacuum in Afghanistan, as the United States did after the Soviets were defeated. The [U.S.] cannot impose a new government and shouldn't try. But it can help and assist to bring order out of chaos in a country rent with linguistic, ethnic, tribal, and religious differences."


In "Le Monde Diplomatique," Ignacio Ramonet points out that on another 11 September -- that of 1973 -- aircraft diverted from their normal flight routes smashed into buildings to overthrow the political system in Chile. He writes: "With the complicity of the United States, General [Augusto] Pinochet staged [this] coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende. [It] was the start of a regime of terror that was to continue for 15 years. [With] all compassion for the innocent victims of the attacks on New York, it has to be said that, of all countries, the U.S. cannot be described as innocent."

Ramonet writes that the U.S. "has a long history of involvement in violent, illegal, and often clandestine political actions [involving] death, disappearances, torture, imprisonment, and exile. [Throughout] the Cold War the U.S. was involved in a crusade against communism. Sometimes that involved mass extermination: thousands of communists killed in Iran; 200,000 opposition leftists killed in Guatemala; almost 1 million communists killed in Indonesia."

Ramonet writes that those actions, like the current war on terrorism, were "marketed as a battle between good and evil." But at that time, the U.S. did not shy away from using terrorists to further its own aims. Through the CIA, the U.S. consciously endorsed projects of sabotage and assassination, he says, noting that the U.S. funded Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Ramonet says that this type of opportunistic U.S. policy is continuing even now. He writes: "Bin Laden is a creation of the U.S. Now, [he] has turned against his maker. In assembling a war coalition against him, the U.S. is prepared to rely on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which for the past 30 years have contributed most to the spread of radical Islamic networks around the world, where necessary using terrorism."


A "Financial Times" editorial says that the recent shooting down of a UN helicopter in Georgia is "a warning to the world that it ignores the Caucasus at its peril." It says the world should make a priority of preventing the recent violence between Georgia and the Abkhaz province from escalating, it says. Georgia wants the 2,000 Russian troops stationed in Abkhazia withdrawn, but the editorial suggests that Georgia should focus on starting talks with Abkhazia.

Another possibility, it says, is to "include in the Abkhazia peacekeeping force more non-Russian troops -- Ukrainians, for example -- to make it more acceptable to Georgia. Eventually, Georgia and Abkhazia could discuss their common future, with Abkhazia accepting something less than full independence in return for pledges of non-interference in its affairs. A settlement in Georgia could improve the political atmosphere elsewhere in the Caucasus."

The editorial adds: "For the West, there is much at stake. As well as combating the threat of terrorism, [the West] wants to secure the Caucasus as a route for the export of Caspian oil and gas. The current tensions in the Islamic world make it all the more important to diversify supply sources."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that despite concerns regarding the broadcast of Osama bin Laden's taped statements -- for fear they might include messages to his followers -- "the terrorist mastermind's appearances so far have actually done much good by revealing the failure of his message. [Relatively] small numbers of people have turned out on the streets to burn effigies, but the broader society hasn't rallied behind the cause."

The editorial says that the campaign against terrorism is also not harmed by video images of rioting Islamic radicals on news broadcasts. It writes: "For moderate Muslims, evidence that only the radical few who have long threatened their way of life are leading the bin Laden charge is a cue to dig in and wait for the fury to die down."


In "The New York Times," author Misha Glenny warns that the Balkans could become a headquarters for international terrorism if workable policies are not implemented to avoid this fate. Glenny writes: "When guns and the black market form the backbone of society, [it] is easy for terrorists to hide. And given the Balkans' proximity to Western Europe, it is a very handy place to plot. So although the Balkans is no longer a primary foreign policy consideration, it cannot be ignored. The international community and the Balkan powers have to shape up."

Glenny continues: "The Balkan countries have a simple choice. All aspire to membership of the European Union, but unless they cooperate among themselves to stabilize the region, they will be moving in the opposite direction. Just wishing for concord among the Balkan nations will not make it happen. The problems they face are very real and very dangerous. The former Yugoslavia is a jumble of chronically weak states and quasi-protectorates."

Glenny concludes: "Time is short. Macedonia is still in crisis. Kosovo is a mess. In the southern Balkans, Slav-Albanian relations threaten almost everywhere to collapse into conflict. A monumental effort is needed to prevent the Balkans from turning into [a] "black hole" of terrorism, but that effort can and must be made."

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