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Western Press Review: From Northern Ireland To Central Asia

Prague, 25 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at the situation in Northern Ireland following this week's announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that they would disarm. It also looks at perceived double standards in the war against terror, the U.S. anthrax scare, and post-Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, among other issues.


In "The Boston Globe," staff writer Scott Lehigh points out that after the events of 11 September and the declaration of the "war on terrorism," several nations sought to emphasize that their own regional conflicts are also fights against terrorism -- Russia's Chechens, Israel's Palestinians, and India's Kashmiri separatists were all branded "terrorists." But Lehigh says there is a double standard at work, as state-sponsored brutality against supposed terrorists is no more acceptable than terrorist acts themselves. He says that certain standards must be used to define, and judge, a nation's response to terrorism.

He cites Robert Pfaltzgraff of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis as suggesting two guidelines to help judge a nation's actions in the war on terrorism: "First would be a simple, broad declaration: No attack that purposefully targets civilians is ever justified from any aggrieved group, no matter what its complaint. A second [principle] would take into account the nature of the country battling terrorism." If you are a representative democracy battling terrorism you "have a greater right" to respond to a terrorist act, says Pfaltzgraff, than a repressive regime who may use it as an excuse to stifle dissent.

These ideas, Lehigh writes, are only a start. But they might help clarify the current antiterrorism doctrine, which he calls "too broad to be truly useful."


An analysis in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by reporter Marc Champion says that the decision this week by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to disarm and destroy some of their weapons is not necessarily the end of the crisis in Northern Ireland. Champion writes: "[Despite] the relief at the IRA decision, it is already clear that Northern Ireland's fragile peace process remains more process than peace -- and [there] are plenty of pitfalls ahead."

The IRA's renunciation of armed struggle could send hard-liners to a splinter group that calls themselves the Real IRA -- and which continues a bombing campaign in areas of the U.K. Champion writes: "There is also little leverage that the international community can use to persuade loyalist paramilitaries to disarm along with the IRA; unlike the IRA, they have no significant political representation."

In spite of persistent doubts, Britain, Champion notes, has responded to the IRA's announcement in kind by pledging to eliminate four contentious military installations. Troop reductions in Northern Ireland are also expected in the future.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger considers the anthrax cases spreading via contaminated mail in the United States. Frankenberger says that with the number of infections growing, the outbreak has now reached what he calls "alarming" proportions. Frankenberger notes that many have assumed there is a link between these events and the attacks of 11 September in the United States.

"Should it prove true that the anthrax bacterium being spread really is weapons grade, then the bioterrorists responsible are specialists who must have learned their trade somewhere. That could be in the United States itself, or in those countries whose leaders have an interest in acquiring or manufacturing weapons of mass destruction." Frankenberger continues: "Not by chance has the name Iraq cropped up in this context. Should this speculation be compounded by serious clues or even a lead, the political and military consequences will not come as any surprise."


A "Financial Times" editorial discusses what it calls "the absence of political leadership in the EU." Specifically, it criticizes both the European Commission and the holder of the rotating EU presidency, Belgium. The editorial says that although the Commission is technically more powerful than ever, it has been in a steady decline, unable to work effectively on defense, structural reform, or crime -- "partly," it says, "because member states do not wish to give up more sovereignty and partly because the Commission is ill-suited to run them."

The paper adds that Commission head Romano Prodi "has not recognized the growing importance of the European Council, where EU leaders meet quarterly, as the crucial agenda-setting forum. [He] has not managed to articulate a new role for the Commission."

The editorial goes on to say that the current Belgian presidency of the EU "is beginning to exhibit some of the flaws that are inherent to the rotating presidency: the intrusion of domestic politics, the lack of diplomatic authority and a reluctance to share the stage with others."

The "Financial Times" concludes that the EU needs "continuity in policy-making and more authoritative international representation. It needs a strong, independent Commission to articulate common interests and enforce rules. [The] value of the EU," it says, "must not fall below the sum of its parts."


An editorial in "The New York Times" questions the wisdom of enabling the Northern Alliance to become the dominant political force in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. The paper says: "Many of the Northern Alliance's leaders are the same people whose murderous feuding and misgovernment between 1992 and 1996 helped open the way for the Taliban takeover. The alliance's ranking political leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, served as Afghanistan's president in the early 1990s and twice plunged the country into civil war. One of its top generals, Abdul Rashid Dostum, is infamous for brutality and ever-shifting political allegiances." The editorial adds that the alliance has almost no ethnic Pashtuns, which are the dominant ethnic population in Afghanistan.

The paper goes on to say that should Northern Alliance forces successfully take Kabul, the antiterrorism coalition will have achieved what the paper calls "an important symbolic success." But it says the larger goal "is to defeat and replace the Taliban throughout Afghanistan so that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network can no longer find shelter there." Achieving that objective, the paper says, "requires forming a coalition that reaches well beyond the discredited warlords of the Northern Alliance."


In "Die Welt," Nikolaus Blome discusses reports indicating that 70 percent of Germans are calling for an end to the U.S. bombing of targets in Afghanistan. Blome says that while such an attitude is humane, it does not consider the whole truth. It's not just the bombing that is causing havoc, he says, adding that responsibility also "lies with the Taliban."

Blome says it is this regime that has taken humanitarian aid workers into custody, permitted its country to suffer in chaos and poverty, and protects a man who is justly being hunted down by the entire free world. Considering the aims of the mission, Blome says, it seems that the air campaign is the only possible weapon -- although, he adds, the successes after two weeks are not as yet convincing.

The real question, he says, is far more subtle and difficult: Is it possible to let Osama bin Laden off the hook with a pause in air strikes in the name of humanitarian aid? Blome answers with a definitive 'no.' He says that while the bombing is hard to bear, it is necessary. The price is a heavy one, but it is a step that had to be taken when considering the high stakes involved.


An analysis by Serge Dumont in Belgium's "Le Soir" looks at the apparent diplomatic rift opening up between the United States and its main ally in the Middle East, Israel. Dumont notes that the U.S. State Department sent what he calls "an extremely dry message" to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demanding Israel end its occupation of six Palestinian towns in the West Bank. This communique has been minimized by Israeli officials, says Dumont, but he suggests that in fact, "it risks having important repercussions on the friendship between the two countries."

Sharon continues to assert that the U.S. exerts no pressure on him. But nevertheless, Dumont says, "the State Department communique clarifies that the current [Israeli] military operations should never have taken place."

Dumont says that sources close to the Israeli prime minister justify his firm stance by stating that Israel is exercising its right to self-defense and that the Palestinians crossed the line by murdering hard-line minister Rehavam Zeevi last week. The Israeli chief of staff, Chaoul Mofhaz, insists his troops are leading "antiterrorist missions." And Dumont remarks that far from all the diplomatic excitement, the Israeli army is only intensifying its positions in the Palestinian cities that it surrounds.


In France's "Le Monde," columnist Eric Dupin writes that Israel's assault against Palestinian territory in the wake of Zeevi's murder signals that certain circles in Israel are trying "to take advantage of the climate of international crisis to get rid of [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat." What Dupin calls the "temptation" to get rid of Arafat "is more present than ever."

Dupin notes that some Israelis have attempted to draw a parallel between the regime of the Taliban and that of Yasser Arafat. But he says such thinking reflects what he calls a "merciless logic." He writes: "If one assumes that the Palestinian Authority [colludes] with terrorism, the objective would be to topple it. Such a strategy would not have been able to develop without the tragedy of 11 September."


An analysis by journalist Ahmed Rashid in "Eurasia View" says the divergent interests of the nations forming the antiterrorism coalition are threatening the success of the antiterror campaign. On one side of the divide, Pakistan is forcefully rejecting any major role for the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan's future because its regional rivals -- Russia, Iran, and India -- have all aided the Northern Alliance military effort. In return, these countries have refused to sanction a role for moderate Taliban leaders in any future Afghan government.

Rashid writes that such a stance is understandable, saying, "Islamabad, which has close ties with the Taliban, figures Taliban defectors would help promote Pakistani security interests, countering Northern Alliance influence over Afghanistan's postwar development."

On another front, the resistance of Pashtun tribal leaders against the Taliban could aid the U.S-led military campaign. But, Rashid says, "the United States and Great Britain appear reluctant to support a Pashtun uprising out of concern that it would rile Pakistani leaders."

Pakistan's support is deemed crucial to the antiterrorism campaign's success. Rashid says that the U.S. may be "in a quandary because, while Pakistan is not delivering on its promise of creating Taliban defections, Washington [remains] unwilling to allow the Northern Alliance to capture Kabul. Pakistan has said it would not tolerate a Northern Alliance seizure of Kabul."

He concludes: "The growing gap between Pakistan and its regional rivals is undermining the U.S.-led alliance."