Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Crisis In Georgia, Realpolitik In Afghanistan, Mideast Diplomacy

Prague, 2 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at the trouble in Georgia in light of renewed Georgia-Russia tensions and President Eduard Shevardnadze's dismissal yesterday of the government. Analysts also consider the competing interests of India and Pakistan in a post-Taliban Afghanistan; the "spectator" role of the EU in the campaign against terror; recent demonstrations in Iran; and the complexities of relations with Syria in the antiterrorist campaign.


An analysis in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the political crisis in Georgia. It calls Georgia a small Christian country with "almost Middle Eastern characteristics." Clans and armed groups are intent on sharing in the politics of the country, while President Eduard Shevardnadze finds himself in the unenviable position of attempting to satisfy everyone.

Moreover, the editorial notes that the economic situation in the country is tense. People are pressing for the return of those who fled to Abkhazia. In addition, the Georgian public's attitude to Russia has taken a turn for the worse, as Russia accuses Tbilisi of giving shelter to Chechen terrorists.

Shevardnadze reacted by dismissing the entire government and has threatened to resign himself. If this happens, the editorial says, "the country is likely to fall apart even more."


Journalist Todd Diamond, writing in "Eurasia View," says, "Georgia appears to be unraveling." Two days of demonstrations followed the 31 October raid on the country's largest independent TV station, Rustavi-2, which led to the resignation of the security minister responsible for the raid.

The resulting chain of events led Shevardnadze to dismiss his entire cabinet yesterday amid demonstrators' calls for early elections. Diamond says Georgia's domestic difficulties have intensified since the 8 October downing of a UN helicopter by unknown forces. Shortly afterwards, renewed fighting broke out in the breakaway Abkhazia region.

These events have increased concern over the security situation in Georgia and led to renewed calls for CIS peacekeeping troops -- mainly Russian -- stationed in the country to be replaced by an international force. As of yet, however, even the investigation committee charged with determining responsibility for the helicopter incident has met with no success.

Diamond writes: "If those authorities cannot negotiate or even determine who is firing at must be dubious about the committee's ability to find a solution to this example of Georgia's myriad crises."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," the former editor of "The Statesman," Sunanda Datta-Ray, considers the issue of who will rule Afghanistan once the U.S.-led military campaign is over.

Datta-Ray says the two most likely contestants are India and Pakistan. But "as always," he writes, "the contest has nothing to do with Afghan welfare and everything to do with strategic ambitions."

India has always considered Afghanistan a strategic buffer and regarded "a neutral and secular government there [as] the best guarantee of its [own] security." India recognizes the Northern Alliance as the legitimate Afghan government. Datta-Ray says the Northern Alliance in power would also "[put] an end to the monopoly control that Pakistan has exercised in Kabul since its proteges, the Taliban, drove the alliance out [in] 1996."

Pakistan's objective, says Datta-Ray, is to "ensure that a reconstituted 'moderate Taliban' regime is installed after the war."

But Datta-Ray adds that "ultimately, oil might be the determining factor in Afghanistan's political future." Pipeline plans through the region were rejected by the Taliban, but the Northern Alliance and the former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, are "anxious" to implement them.

Datta-Ray writes: "As always, the interest of outsiders concerns what would-be Afghan leaders promise to global realpolitik, not what they can do for 25 million cruelly suffering Afghans. The Great Game goes on."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says the European Union has been following the campaign against terrorism "as a curious, but by and large uninvolved, spectator." He writes: "The truth is that in times of conflicts that require a readiness -- and capacity -- for military action, most member states are swayed more by national interests than by a well-meant common good. The EU is not capable of handling crises because certain leaders are now posing as crisis managers and behaving as if everything hinged on them."

Frankenberger goes on to say that the suggestion made by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel -- which holds the current rotating EU presidency -- that air strikes should be suspended during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan merely supports the view that the EU will remain "an optional extra in future conflicts."

Michel's suggestion, says Frankenberger, also "raises some serious questions concerning Europe's capacity for leadership."


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" considers U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's upcoming meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Powell is expected to seek Iranian support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

The editorial says that recent demonstrations in Iran following soccer matches may influence this endeavor, as Iranian authorities are nervous enough to be confiscating satellite dishes. The editorial writes, "What can the U.S. give Iran for cooperating, especially when the U.S. sees Iran as a supporter of terrorism? With Iran's clerics clinging to power, they may want the U.S. to stop America-based Iranians from stirring up the masses via satellite TV. Or to force a peace deal on Israel."

But the paper says that even talking with Iran "will be a big step for the U.S. It may feel pressure to make a deal quickly if the Taliban starts to fall, a deal the U.S. may later regret. Iran is much more pivotal in geopolitical terms than Afghanistan." The paper continues, "A false step could 'lose Iran' for another couple of decades, and jeopardize that nation's reformist, democratic forces."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" considers the wisdom of British Prime Minister Tony's Blair's visit to Syria on 31 October. The editorial says Blair's visit -- the first ever by a British prime minister -- conferred legitimacy to Syria and its policies supporting terrorist organizations.

The paper writes: "Syria [is] about as close to the definition of 'state sponsor of terrorism' as you can find. Every terrorist group known to that part of the world -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Saiq, the People's Front For the Liberation of Palestine, Hezbollah, the PKK -- is openly tolerated and to varying degrees directly supported by the Ba'athist Syrian regime. [Dialogue] is the currency of diplomacy, [but] what is it we hope to gain by courting one of the Middle East's most notorious terrorist sponsors in this fashion?"

The editorial continues: "The de facto amnesty granted Syria will certainly have consequences, not least for the Israeli-Palestinian peace that Mr. Blair is so ardently seeking right now."

The goals of the campaign against terrorism are in direct contradiction to the policies of state sponsors of terror, the editorial says. And this contradiction, it writes, "cannot be met by indulgence."


A contribution to "Le Monde" by Philippe Chabasse of Handicap International criticizes the use of cluster bombs in the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. He says Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, with between 7 million and 9 million anti-personnel mines hiding in plains and valleys and continuing to kill or maim civilians.

For the past several years, writes Chabasse, "world public opinion has become increasingly aware of the unacceptable aspects of the use of a weapon which continues a war after the war." So what sense does it make that today, he asks, the United States is using cluster bombs against Taliban forces in Afghanistan?

Even if these are not, technically speaking, anti-personnel landmines, these bombs leave thousands of unexploded sub-ammunitions which, just like landmines, "mortgage the lives and security of those that will have to rebuild their country in the years [to] come."

Chabasse says all the countries that are signatories to the anti-personnel landmine ban should demand that the United States immediately end its use of cluster bombs. He writes: "Any war takes its lot of innocent civilian victims. This, already, [is] unacceptable. But what can be said of the responsibility of those who, in leading this war, mortgage the lives of thousands of civilians for when peace has returned?"


In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott says that for all the rhetoric describing the 11 September attacks as "an attack on every society," it was, more accurately, "an attack against one nation which is also a threat to all nations."

Much of what has followed the attacks misses what is happening "at a deeper level," says Woollacott. A "process of reassessment" is going on everywhere. As he puts it, "Nations are adjusting, with a great deal of difficulty, at different speeds and without abandoning old interests, to the change which 11 September represents, while still being uncertain, as we all are, of the full extent of that change. Indeed, they may cling even more to old interests, since it is precisely at moments of great change that nations can win victories or suffer defeats that would not be possible in more normal times. International life consists usually of a series of impasses. It is both conflicted and constricted. But every now and again it opens up, and the thought that this may be one of those times is in everybody's mind."


A contribution from journalist Salil Tripathi in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" considers the confrontation between the United States and the German Bayer pharmaceutical company over pricing of the anthrax treatment Ciprofloxacin, or Cipro. Tripathi says the U.S. "climbed down from its long-held position that patent rights are sacrosanct, and threatened to buy the drug from generic suppliers unless Cipro's patent holder, Bayer AG of Germany, reduced the prevailing price [per] tablet."

Tripathi says that "what the U.S. has done with Cipro -- taken a tough stance against the pharmaceutical industry during a public-health crisis -- is exactly what developing countries want to do." Controversy has been raging over intellectual property patents for HIV/AIDS drugs specifically. "Shouldn't what's good for anthrax be good for HIV treatment?" he asks.

Tripathi writes: "Nobody questions people's rights to secure lifesaving drugs at affordable prices. It would be callous to deny medicines to the ailing because they cannot afford drugs. Providing affordable health care in times of a national crisis is a governmental duty."

But he says it is time for the drug industry to [get] on board with a controlled and legal mechanism that allows countries in dire need and under specific circumstances to either license patented drugs themselves or buy them from other off-patent producers when necessary."

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