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Western Press Review: Repression, Diplomacy In Central Asia; Arresting Bosnian War Criminals

Prague, 8 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at repression and diplomacy in Central Asia, surprises in the battle against the Taliban, and arresting Bosnian war criminals as a "second front" in the campaign against terrorism. Other issues include calling for a humanitarian halt to the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, Romania's steel works, and the global economic outlook.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that by going to war in Afghanistan, the United States has "tumbled into two complex, many-sided conflicts." One is Afghanistan's ever-changing civil war. But what it says will also be "treacherous for the distant Americans" are the regional rivalries that Afghanistan's neighbors continue to pursue through their allies within Afghanistan.

The paper notes that both Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov -- whom the paper describes as ruling "with an iron hand" -- and the "somewhat less repressive" Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov have promised the use of air bases for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.

The paper writes: "The military rationale for such arrangements with the Central Asian states [is] compelling. And in wartime, a nation takes its allies where it finds them." But it says that Karimov's regime in Uzbekistan "has exaggerated a threat from Islamic extremists to justify a vicious crackdown on all dissent and on the most innocent signs of religious observance. Stalinist methods of repression are wielded [in] the name of independence while living conditions deteriorate."

The paper advises that the United States not allow itself to be identified with "Central Asian regimes working against their populations. Washington must also avoid being maneuvered into exclusive political support for the Afghan clients of those regimes -- the Northern Alliance, composed primarily of Tajik and some Uzbek fighters."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says there have been many surprises in the battle against the Taliban. The editorial says that for some time there have been signs that Iran has been giving more weight to its national interests and traditions than to Islamic ideology. In Afghanistan, Iran favors the toppling of the Taliban and thus supports the Northern Alliance, whose majority speak Persian. Similarly, Libya is trying to shake off its reputation as a rogue state and in doing so has roused the anger of some Islamic groups. The editorial concludes that amid such unexpected events, it is certain that "times are changing."


In "The Washington Post," columnist Richard Cohen proposes opening what he calls "a second front" in the war on terrorism. Cohen suggests that the United States should arrest Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Bosnian Serbs and currently an indicted war criminal, as well as Ratko Mladic, his former military commander.

Cohen writes: "Together, Karadzic and Mladic waged a campaign of terror and genocide against Bosnia's Muslims. Their goal was to make their envisioned state free of Muslims and Croats by inducing most of them to flee and killing the ones who remained."

Cohen says that in much of the Muslim world, the antiterrorism campaign is seen as an attack on Islam itself. To arrest these two war criminals might help convince Muslims that the U.S. and its allies are not waging a war against them. Cohen writes: "It might also remind the Islamic world that in yet another part of the Balkans, Kosovo, the United States and NATO came to the rescue of Muslims, the ethnic Albanians."

Cohen goes on to say that the war crimes of the two men were "monstrous and their victims mostly Muslims. This would be the happy marriage of justice with self-interest -- a second front that at least should be given a second thought."


In "The Christian Science Monitor," Helena Cobban considers the possibility of a humanitarian halt to the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. She asks if U.S. President George W. Bush has "the moral toughness and vision to call for an urgent halt to hostilities, and the launching of a worldwide campaign to save the lives of millions of Afghan civilians now threatened by a deadly combination of winter and war?"

She says that while the campaign does not intend to harm civilians, "the mustering and use of American military power [has] helped inflict serious harm on a civilian population already weakened by 23 years of war and three years of drought."

Cobban writes: "Diplomats from NATO nations are reportedly eager to help transport aid supplies into the country. But aid experts stress that, to be successful, such an operation needs hostilities to stop. [President] Bush should therefore issue a serious call for a humanitarian cease-fire, and the urgent launching of such an aid operation," she says.

The Taliban might also agree to allow aid to reach its intended recipients, says Cobban. But she adds, "Even if the Taliban would not agree to a negotiated cease-fire, the [U.S.] president should seriously consider a unilateral halt."


In an analysis in France's "Le Monde," Christian Delanghe and Jean-Francois Delpech of the Euro-American research center US Crest say that since the attacks of 11 September, the U.S. declaration of war that followed and the ongoing anthrax scare, a "new threshold was crossed in the use of violence."

Delanghe and Delpech say the moment has come to ask fundamental questions on the employment of force in terms of integrating political objectives, operational concepts, and capacities. In a political plan, they say, the use of force should respond to the realities of current situations and be adaptable. They write: "The complexities of the situations at issue, the destructive power of modern armaments, the possible implications of the use of force in a world in which information flows increasingly freely and quickly, necessitates the exact adjustment of military action to the political aim."

Considering the use of force now must also obey a fundamentally new logic, say the authors: "Modern technologies of surveillance, information, intelligence, command, communication [and] precision allow [the] employment of force in moderation, but with improved efficiency."


In Britain's "The Guardian," Kate Connolly looks at the deal signed recently between Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and British-based LNM Holdings for the sale of Sidex, a steelworks in Galati, Romania, complete with its 27,500 workers.

Connolly says that this sale was surprising, as the demand for steel is falling while global production is on the rise. In addition, Sidex has been the cause of 80 percent of the country's losses from state-owned enterprise. But LNM has gained a reputation as a company that turns loss-making plants profitable, she says.

Connolly writes: "As Romania's fragile economy finally begins to come out of the doldrums, [Sidex] stands as a potential metaphor for the way in which the country could turn around in the next couple of years. [Its] success or failure is a litmus test not just for the country but for the whole of the southeastern European region."

She continues: "The [Romanian] government sees the Sidex deal as an integral part of the current transformation Romania is undergoing. [With] a recession looming, this can either be seen as an extremely precarious time for emerging economies, or an opportunity for companies in the West who find their growth is currently stunted to look for new opportunities, particularly in a country such as Romania, which is so rich in human and natural resources."


In the "International Herald Tribune," Steven Levingston notes that despite repeated interest-rate cuts around the world, the global economy is failing to revive. He questions if this economic downturn is so different from those of the past that traditional methods of stimulating the economy, such as cutting interest rates, are proving ineffective.

Levingston writes: "The terrorist attacks of September 11 have strengthened the perception by some analysts that the global economy may be heading into uncharted territory. Uncertainty among both private individuals and businesses has rarely reached such depths. The reluctance of both consumers and corporate heads to spend and invest has the potential of creating a vicious cycle."

Most economists, he notes, are still convinced that traditional methods will bring about a recovery in the second half of next year. But he says that other analysts cite the situation in Japan, where repeated interest-rate cuts have left rates at close to zero, while the economy continues to slow.

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