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Western Press Review: Humanitarian And Realpolitik Issues In War On Terror

Prague, 23 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary looks at the idea of "linking" global issues, the considerable humanitarian distress that may ensue from the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and the dispute over Kashmir. Other analyses examine the difficulties faced by Saudi Arabia in joining the campaign and the realpolitik considerations behind the war on terror, as well as other issues.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" examines the concept of "linkage" -- what it calls "the belief that problems within and between Arab countries will not be solved until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is brought to a 'just resolution.'" The editorial notes that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein used this idea in his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Hussein said at the time that he would not leave Kuwait until Israel had withdrawn its forces from Gaza and the West Bank. This declaration, the editorial says, "promised to deflect attention away from an essentially intra-Arab conflict, put the onus of Arab problems on Israel, and rally radical Arab elements [to] his cause."

The editorial says now the concept of linkage is being used by Western diplomats and moderate Arab leaders. Both seem to believe that Arab cooperation with the U.S.-led campaign against terror depends on Israel adopting a more moderate stance. But the recent assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi has instead brought about an Israeli crackdown in six Palestinian cities, in spite of U.S. appeals for Israel's withdrawal.

The paper says that at some point soon, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "will have to ignore U.S. pressure, putting the [U.S. President George W.] Bush administration in the untenable position of either joining the Arabs in a full-throated condemnation of Israel or otherwise appearing impotent to influence events."


In Britain's "The Independent," columnist Robert Fisk criticizes the U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan on humanitarian grounds. He writes: "[As] the Afghan refugees turn up in their thousands at the border, it is palpably evident that they are fleeing not the Taliban but our bombs and missiles. [The] refugees speak vividly of their fear and terror as our bombs fall on their cities. These people are terrified of our 'war on terror,' [and they are] victims as innocent as those who were slaughtered in the World Trade Center on 11 September. So where do we stop?"

Fisk goes on to say that the U.S.-led campaign is not a "war on terrorism." Instead, he says, it is "a war on America's enemies." He writes: "Increasingly, as the date of 11 September acquires iconic status, we are retaliating for the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington. [The] figure of 6,000 [deaths on 11 September] remains as awesome as it did in the days that followed. But what happens when the deaths for which we are responsible begin to approach the same figure?"

Fisk says that this war is "not going to lead to justice." Instead, he asks, "Can we turn the falsity of a 'war against terror' into a war against famine and starvation and death, even at the cost of postponing our day of reckoning with [suspected terrorist] Osama bin Laden?"


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" looks at the contentious issue of Kashmir. Recent skirmishes in the area separating Indian-controlled Kashmir from Pakistani territory and the ongoing campaign against terrorism have highlighted the territorial dispute. The paper writes: "The Kashmir conflict is dangerous not solely because India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, but also because this territorial dispute, rooted in the dissolution of British colonialism on the subcontinent in 1947, has become a measure of religious and patriotic ardor in both countries."

"Against this background, political leaders in India and Pakistan find it hard to compromise on longstanding positions. They find it equally hard to resist the temptation to use the Kashmir issue to prove their fitness to govern."

The editorial says that the West should offer both countries economic rewards and international privileges if they find a resolution to the issue. It writes: "Ideally, any mechanism for such a resolution would include a free and fair referendum for the people of Kashmir, with an option to vote for independence as well as inclusion in either India or Pakistan."


Torsten Krauel -- in a commentary on the war against terrorism in "Die Welt" -- says the U.S.-led attacks against Afghanistan, as well as the recent anthrax threats, are "raising the conflict to ugly but foreseeable dimensions." U.S. President George W. Bush is letting the world know that capturing Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" was no empty threat. Bush is arguing for the rights of a state to defend itself and explaining to the world the need for retaliation.

These genuinely meant threats bode ill for the future, says Krauel. The world had hoped for a different situation in the new century, he says, and unlike previous wars, there is no concrete enemy with whom one can negotiate. "The only way to treat them is to annihilate them" seems to be the conclusion.

Krauel says that only when there are no prospects for a political settlement can such actions be condoned. This is of little comfort for the people involved. For a country that -- four weeks after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington -- is now experiencing systematic bio-terror, waging a war in far-off Afghanistan is not a clear response to those instigators of "concealed murders."


A news analysis by Thomas Ricks and Alan Sipress in "The Washington Post" says that the targeting and pace of the U.S.-led military strikes on Afghanistan have been determined by political and diplomatic calculations as much as by the primary goal of routing Osama bin Laden and the ruling Taliban militia.

Among the U.S.'s political goals are "winning defections of Taliban supporters; balancing the competing interests of ethnic groups inside the country and also those of rival countries in the region; and preventing the massive movement of refugees that could destabilize neighboring Pakistan and undercut international support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism." They say that achieving these political aims demands a measured approach.

The best example of these deliberations are the limited strikes on Kabul, say the writers. U.S. and Northern Alliance representatives have agreed that the alliance will not yet take the capital, Kabul. Instead attention has been focused in recent days on assembling a broad opposition to the Taliban. Ricks and Sipress cite Afghan affairs analyst Patricia Gossman as saying that the U.S. should not make the mistake of accelerating military action before an opposition with legitimacy among the Afghans is formed.

But the writers also note that while these political concerns demand a gradual approach, the U.S. is "under pressure to accelerate the campaign because of the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in less than four weeks and the onset of winter soon after" -- which would complicate military action immeasurably.


A "Le Monde" editorial says that in addition to the defeat of terrorism, the goal of the current campaign must be "to free the Afghans from the yoke of the Taliban." But the editorial says that in order for this liberation to be complete, "it is important that it also reaches -- if not begins with -- Afghan women, who, more than anyone, suffer from a merciless sexist repression under these former religious students fanaticized by an extremist [vision] of Islam. Already the victims of two decades of war and political violence, they are excluded from public, economic, social and cultural life," says the paper.

The French daily notes that in 1996, the Taliban declared that Islam mandates what it called "the dignity specific to women." This, they said, made it necessary for women to be safe from the gazes of those who would not respect them, by being covered head-to-toe by a burqa. But "Le Monde" remarks that "this claimed respect did not prevent [the Taliban] from letting them starve or be violated," or from being stoned to death or beaten by the police or forcibly married to soldiers.

The paper concludes that in order to prevent the antiterrorism campaign from turning into "a cynical coalition of interests," it will be necessary to remind any future government in Afghanistan of their obligation to what "Le Monde" calls "the other half of the world."


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist George Monbiot looks at some of the realpolitik considerations that may underlie the war on terrorism. He writes that while the invasion of Afghanistan is a campaign against terrorists, "it may also be a late colonial adventure."

Afghanistan's northern neighbors in Central Asia contain oil and gas reserves that Monbiot says "could be critical to future global supply." But in order to move them into energy markets, "the only route that makes both political and economic sense is through Afghanistan." Monbiot says the other options are not reasonable alternatives for the U.S. He writes that transporting oil and gas "through Russia or Azerbaijan would greatly enhance Russia's [control] over the Central Asian republics, which is precisely what the West has spent 10 years trying to prevent."

Neither China nor Iran offers an acceptable strategic alternative for the U.S. But, Monbiot says, "pipelines through Afghanistan would allow the U.S. both to pursue its aim of 'diversifying energy supply' and to penetrate the world's most lucrative markets."

He writes: "Afghanistan, as ever, is the key to the Western domination of Asia." Monbiot concludes that, "The U.S. government is genuine in its attempt to stamp out terrorism by military force in Afghanistan, however misguided that may be. But we would be naive to believe that this is all it is doing."


In "Eurasia View," George Mason University politics Professor Mark Katz says that a prolonged U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan could undermine the Saudi monarchy's stability. He says that the current campaign in Afghanistan poses a serious problem for Riyadh.

"Saudi legitimacy is based on the royal family's claim to be faithful guardians of the two holy cities Mecca and Medina, and of Islamic law and values generally," Katz explains. But "many devout Muslims firmly believe that it is [Muslims'] duty to set aside prior disagreements and support fellow believers in a dispute involving Muslims and non-Muslims."

According to Katz, many Muslims also believe that "Riyadh's support for the American military campaign in Afghanistan reveals the falsity of Saudi claims to uphold Islamic values, as well as the illegitimacy of its guardianship over the two holy cities."

The longer the campaign goes on, the more the Saudi royalty's status may erode in the eyes of Muslims. Katz concludes that "from the Saudi perspective, it would be best if the Taliban were ousted quickly and a new broad-based Afghan government replaced it."

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