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Western Press Review: Fall Of Kabul, Bush-Putin Meeting, And EU Expansion

Prague, 14 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses primarily on the Northern Alliance's entry into the Afghan capital Kabul yesterday after a Taliban retreat. While some hail the capture of Kabul by opposition Alliance forces as a resounding victory, others warn the Taliban's withdrawal may have been a strategic move indicating a shift in military tactics. Other analyses focus on EU expansion and the first day of the three-day summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush.


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher says that the Northern Alliance's capture of Kabul is only the first stage in the war against terrorism. Nonnenmacher says the U.S.-led air strikes seem to have weakened the Taliban. But, he adds: "Many indications suggest that in a strategic retreat, the Taliban has surrendered those positions that it would not have been able to hold in the medium term anyway. Withdrawing [may] be a strategic move."

Nonnenmacher continues: "In a military sense, we are presumably seeing the transition [from] classic warfare to a guerrilla war where [the] political leadership withdraws into a few refuges that are hard to conquer. [Such] a strategy [scatters] small groups throughout the country, forming new nests of resistance that leave the opposing forces no option but to scatter their own troops, making them vulnerable to surprise assaults."

Nonnenmacher says that following the victory in Kabul, differences are likely to arise between members of the antiterrorism coalition. Debate will ensue over whether to continue the war on a guerrilla front, if the air strikes should continue, and how to involve all Afghan ethnic groups in a new government. From now on, he says, "fewer and fewer politicians will have the courage to say what they all know -- that military success in Afghanistan is only a first stage in the war against terrorism."


An editorial in "The New York Times" calls the Taliban's retreat from Kabul yesterday a dramatic and unexpected development. But it calls for a broad-based government to be "swiftly installed in Kabul" and neutral peacekeeping forces sent to maintain stability in the country.

In coming weeks, the paper says, the international community "must rapidly put together a multinational force that could establish security in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. [To] prevent a repetition of past cycles of violent reprisals, the United States, Russia, India and other countries that have supported the Northern Alliance must exert pressure on its commanders to exercise restraint on the ground in Kabul and other areas it has seized. [The] entire international community must make it clear that a bloodbath in Afghanistan will destroy any chances of bringing unity to the country."

The paper says the other urgent priority "is to speed relief to Afghans in the country's mountains and deserts who have been suffering for years from war, drought and repression. [Ultimately,] saving the lives of the innocent in Afghanistan is the best way to save its stability and future peace."


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" says that after the fall of Kabul yesterday, the question still remains of who can successfully govern Afghanistan. The editorial says: "The war has outpaced diplomacy aimed at patching together a post-Taliban government, forcing the U.S. to line up friendly Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia, to offer troops as 'neutral' peacekeepers." But this, the paper adds, would be "a risky move. [Much] of the tensions in Afghanistan are ethnic, not religious. And the United Nations will need to provide a broad mandate to those forces in being aggressive against Afghan factions fighting one another over blood feuds."

The paper says that balancing the interests of all Afghan ethnic groups, as well as the interests of neighboring states, "still requires the skill and the [charisma] of a big power like the U.S., even if it's not perceived as a 'Muslim nation.'"


In the British "The Independent," Associate Editor Kaizer Nyatsumba criticizes the use of military force in the campaign against terrorism and says that it may ultimately prove self-defeating. Nyatsumba writes: "Far from ending terrorism, 'Operation Enduring Freedom' might well spawn more terrorism against the U.S. By launching a military campaign [instead] of taking the judicial route, the U.S. and Britain may well have created more dangerous enemies. The campaign of the past few weeks, which saw hi-tech American bombs falling on people's homes, schools, hospitals and even a Red Cross facility, have gone a long way to further hardening attitudes to the U.S."

While the attacks of 11 September were barbaric, he says, "truly civilized people do not respond to barbarity with barbarity of their own. Instead, they reveal [that] they are better human beings and that they will not allow their enemies to push them to stoop to such depraved levels." Nyatsumba adds: "If the U.S. and Britain had conclusive evidence of [prime suspect Osama] bin Laden's guilt or culpability, they should have made that evidence available to the Taliban and the United Nations, and insisted on his extradition." In doing this, he says, "the U.S. and its allies would have shown themselves to be believers in true justice, and therefore better than the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the fall of Kabul, and perhaps the Taliban, must not lead to the West abandoning Afghanistan to the Northern Alliance. The paper notes that the Alliance has its own questionable human rights record, although the people of Afghanistan may vastly prefer it to the Taliban's repression.

The paper writes: "The Taliban's religious fanaticism made them uncompromising in their edicts -- no music, no television, no women allowed outside the house without a head-to-toe burkah, no kite-flying for children; and punishment by hanging or stoning for whoever ignores these and myriad other rules." These edicts, it says, "plunged the once-modernizing capital of a once-normal country" into regression and extreme poverty.

"Today there's reason enough to cheer, for Kabulis as for the rest of the world, because [the] Taliban are on the run," writes the paper. "The job, however, is far from over, and this time it must be finished."


A news analysis by Bradley Graham and Vernon Loeb of "The Washington Post" news service says the capture of southern Afghanistan will be the crucial challenge for the antiterrorism coalition. They write: "With no organized anti-Taliban movement in the south, the Pentagon lacks the proxy ground force there it has found in the Northern Alliance."

The authors add that the absence of an insurrection against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan has led some to conclude that significant ground forces may be necessary. Graham and Loeb say that "using the Northern Alliance to push south beyond Kabul appears out of the question. The Alliance, a loose coalition dominated by ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, is on familiar ground in the north. But sending the rebels into Pashtun areas would inflame Afghan divisions and undercut U.S.-led efforts to replace Taliban rule with a broad-based coalition government."

The authors continue: "[The] swiftness of the rebel advance has surprised senior [U.S.] Pentagon officials, who less than a week ago were still expressing uncertainty about when the Northern Alliance would begin to move after weeks of indecision and bickering. [But] they said that because the Alliance had captured so much territory so quickly, it likely will need time to consolidate."

Graham and Loeb emphasize that gains by the Northern Alliance do not necessarily indicate the fall of the Taliban, which maintains a stronghold in Kandahar.


In Belgium's daily "Le Soir," Pol Mathil considers the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House yesterday. Mathil says that "after several months of spectacular rapprochement, both men, pragmatic political leaders, indicated their willingness to put a definitive end to the era of hostility between their two nations."

The change came on 11 September, says Mathil. In cooperating for the campaign against terrorism, both presidents found themselves in circumstances that allowed them to redefine their relations. Since the attempts, Russia has shown itself to be a key U.S. ally. Putin has contributed Moscow's expertise and allowed the U.S. military access to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Mathil notes.

But this moment is very special, he says. The antiterrorism campaign is an "absolute priority, 'erasing' the other problems." But when the campaign is through, he writes, the other problems will reappear.

"Russia is going to continue to sell weapons to Iran, Iraq, and Libya, and is not going to give up its influence in post-Soviet Asia," he writes, adding: "And the United States is not going to give up on NATO expansion."


An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" calls the three-day Bush-Putin summit a chance to "fundamentally realign relations" between the two nations. The paper remarks that the summit offers the chance for agreements on missile defense, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and cuts in strategic nuclear arms.

"Yet the most important issue they will discuss -- arguably the greatest threat to peace in the 21st century -- has gotten far less attention," says the paper. "That is the prospect that elements of a nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization or rogue nation. [This] is a grave concern [because] there is great uncertainty about the vulnerability of Russian nuclear materials and the status of some of the nation's top scientists."

The paper says that there were "dozens of violations last year of Russia's rules for securing nuclear material."

To combat these vulnerabilities, the paper suggests, Russia should reduce the number of sites where nuclear weapons are stored and heighten security. The U.S. must help by providing employment for nuclear scientists, who the paper says "might otherwise sell their services to terrorists."

The paper writes: "[Just] as it appears an extraordinary breakthrough is about to happen, the risk of the great powers firing their arsenals has suddenly diminished. More important, it seems, is eliminating, or preventing the dissemination of, insecure nuclear materials."


In Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Andreas Oldag discusses the European Union enlargement process, following the report issued yesterday by the European Commission.

The report said that 10 candidates comply with the political and economic criteria for membership. But Oldag says that even though this round of expansion will be the largest in the organization's history, there "is no cause for jubilation." He goes on to describe the burdens of the socialist economies that still weigh heavily on Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

Some progress has been made in the establishment of small businesses, he says, but these are incapable of absorbing the workforce from what Oldag calls the "dinosaurs of the coal, chemical and steel industries in these countries."

Unfortunately, he says, the governments in Warsaw and Prague are relying on Brussels to somehow solve their countries' social problems by providing subsidies. Yet the EU has no vision of how it is going to settle its budget problems when the time for expansion nears.

"Brussels is sticking its head in the sand," he writes. The current European Commission is due to remain in office until the beginning of 2005, and until then, the top officials want to achieve political success. But economically speaking, he says, expansion will not be "safely undercover" by a long shot.

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