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Western Press Review: Abdul Haq, Geopolitical Myths, And Russia's New Land Code

Prague, 29 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today looks at the death on 26 October of Abdul Haq, a key Northern Alliance commander and veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war. Other pieces consider geopolitics, the European Union, Russia's new land code, and whether the assassination of extremist Osama bin Laden could be considered a prudent strategic move.


Writing in Britain's "The Independent," columnist Bruce Anderson looks at the assassination of Northern Alliance commander Abdul Haq and what his death may mean for the antiterrorist campaign. Anderson describes Haq as "charming," "cosmopolitan," and a man who "had spent more than half his life fighting, [but] knew that there was much more to life than warfare. [To] the end, [Haq] retained not only his courage but his sense of humor."

Haq's death at the hands of the Taliban, Anderson writes, may lead to unwelcome conclusions -- among them, that Haq's route into Afghanistan may have been leaked to his enemies. Anderson speculates that this possibility raises doubts about the reliability of the Pakistani secret service, or ISI. This "creates anxieties about both Pakistan's internal security and the safety of its nuclear arsenal."

Anderson adds that Haq himself may have miscalculated the dangers of re-entering Afghanistan. This, he says, suggests something equally worrisome: "The Taliban may be more entrenched than Western policymakers would like to believe."


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard University's Center for International Development says the decline and fall of civilizations is often mistakenly read as a "morality tale." He says some believe the rise of Christian societies is proof of their superiority, just as others believe the relative decline of Islamic supremacy is due to the debasement of its purity. Both of these ideas are false, Sachs says, and the long history of interaction between Muslim and Christian societies are to blame. He writes: "By misreading the decline of Islam as a morality story rather than one of demography and geopolitics, [Westerners] fuel misunderstanding, condescension and bigotry."

On the other hand, Sachs says that the small proportion of Islamic fundamentalists who believe that an internal cleansing of society will restore a Muslim golden age do not fully understand a salient point: "Technology, demography and geopolitics have changed since the day when Islamic cities were the crown of global civilization." He continues: "Solutions to the current crisis must start by re-thinking the boundaries of Islam and Christianity as open borders rather than military divides, and by the U.S. and Europe regarding the Islamic world as more than the oil in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia to be manipulated for economic gain."


Jochen Buchsteiner comments on EU affairs in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," saying Britain, France, and Germany are at loggerheads over policy. He writes: "Only with difficulty are the visionaries of a new Europe capable of conducting a unified foreign policy able to conceal their perplexity."

European Commission President Romano Prodi, whose two years at the helm Buchsteiner describes as "disappointing," is being blamed for failures on this front. In fact, the commentary goes on to say, "Mr. Prodi's weariness is symptomatic. The entire system of leadership in Brussels looks feeble."

He says the iron law of international bodies -- by which representatives are only as strong as their member states want them to be -- applies to the EU. The impression that Brussels makes at any one moment reflects first and foremost what the EU members wish. While it made a professional impression in dealing with the crisis in Macedonia, the terrorist attacks on the United States and their consequences have shown how weak Europe remains. Buchsteiner explains this by saying: "In times of crisis people still have more confidence in their own capital than in Brussels."

Events may prompt the EU to conduct its business more efficiently. Buchsteiner expresses the hope that "the sobering test of the past few weeks may promote a realization that further European integration ought to proceed more pragmatically than in the past. Europe would be most capable of action if it had quasi-state structures."

There are, however, many obstacles to such a solution, Buchsteiner writes. Europeans are seeking proof that European integration will benefit them, he says, adding: "Grand designs on the EU's final shape result in a house no one wants to move into." Buchsteiner points out that there is no way of designing such a house artificially; it must be developed organically by increased coordination between European capitals.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says Russia's new land code -- signed into law on 26 October by President Vladimir Putin -- finally reverses what it calls "the communist era's most pernicious economic legacy" and "one of the biggest deterrents to foreign investment in Russia."

The paper writes: "For years, attempts to give Russia a proper land-reform law were thwarted by a combination of Russia's communists and agrarian interests. Their spurious rationale was that unshackling agricultural land from collectives would lead to foreigners pouring in to buy up Russian farms, enslaving Russian farmers. Really what they feared was the loss of a major constituency, as private owners and those who work for them would discover the benefits of economic freedom."

The paper writes that, in the end, "the communists managed to get agricultural land -- up to 97 percent of all land in Russia -- excluded from the law. But the fact that a law governing private property passed at all says something about the diminished strength of these forces in Russia's economic debate." The paper says that the new law demonstrates the ability to pursue real reform, but adds: "[Only] by freeing agricultural land too will Russia reap the true benefits of a private property market."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" looks at the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, three weeks into the operation. The editorial says that it is a political battle as much as a military one, and on both of these fronts the U.S. is faring poorly. The paper criticizes the U.S use of cluster bombs, noting that if these munitions do not explode on contact they remain in the earth and can then be set off, killing or maiming civilians. The paper quotes Nicole Fontaine, president of the European Parliament, as saying their use in Afghanistan is a "political error." The paper adds that it is "morally repugnant and extraordinarily counterproductive."

Moreover, the paper adds, the campaign appears to be making little headway, with the Taliban putting up strong resistance and the Northern Alliance providing little in the way of effective opposition. The capture and assassination of opposition leader Abdul Haq was another setback. "Le Monde" says: "From Pakistan, [Haq] had entered Afghanistan to spark defections from the Taliban and rally Pashtun chiefs to the opposition. His [removal] is a very hard blow [to] the implementation of a broad ethnic and political coalition to take power in Kabul."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," former U.S. representative to the UN Richard Holbrooke says that the antiterrorism coalition is not doing enough to win over public opinion in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Defining what this war is really about in the minds of Muslims around the world, Holbrooke says, will be "of decisive and historic importance." He adds that most analysts agree that Osama bin Laden now has the advantage in framing the struggle as a war against Islam and not against terrorism, as Western leaders insist. Holbrooke writes: "What should concern America most urgently is the apparent initial failure of its own message and the inadequacy of its messengers. Even in death, bin Laden could well spawn a new generation of dedicated, fanatical terrorists if his message takes root. The battle of ideas therefore is as important as any other aspect of the struggle that the United States is now engaged in."


In a contribution to the "Chicago Tribune," law professor Anthony D'Amato looks at the recent decision to grant the CIA the right to use covert means to kill Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks. D'Amato says that legitimizing political assassination is a dubious move. He writes: "Assassination is an ugly business. It can backfire on us by making a martyr out of criminals like bin Laden."

D'Amato says that U.S. President George W. Bush should reconsider this decision, adding: "Assassination is a war crime for a good reason. The purpose of the laws of war is not to kill the enemy but to bring him to justice. Deaths are inevitable in war, but when a state authorizes killing as an end in itself, it amounts to murder. To order the CIA to target bin Laden is to lower ourselves to his level."

He continues: "Bringing a criminal to trial [instead] is no sign of softness. Bin Laden would probably prefer to be shot. [Nazi leaders Adolf] Hitler [and] Hermann Goering chose to commit suicide rather than face trial at Nuremberg. A trial is a protracted form of torture for the guilty. It slowly dissolves their high opinion of themselves as heroes. It reveals their lives to the world, to history, and to themselves, as shameful."

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