Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Afghanistan's Ongoing Challenges, Kosovo Elections

Prague, 22 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our survey of the Western press today begins with commentary and analysis on Afghanistan, as U.S. and Northern Alliance forces continue to battle the Taliban for control of the regions of Kondoz, Kandahar, and Paktia. Other topics discussed include foreign policy and the International Monetary Fund and last week's elections in Kosovo.


Columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger writes in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that Germany has redefined its role in the antiterrorism campaign by offering to host next week's (26 November) meeting between Northern Alliance and Afghan tribal leaders in Bonn. He notes that the deployment of German military forces to Afghanistan was hotly debated in parliament, with particular opposition coming from the Alliance 90/Greens party of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. By taking a leading role in finding a political solution, Frankenberger says Germany can perform an active role in the Afghan campaign without sparking opposition within its own borders.

The 26 November talks in Bonn may help avoid a calamity brought on by the rapid collapse of the Taliban, Frankenberger says. "The less resistance the victorious Northern Alliance has to face in translating its military successes into positions of political power, the more difficult it will be to prevail upon its leaders to share that power again in a country notoriously riven with ethnic, tribal, and religious strife." But agreeing to the talks in Bonn, Frankenberger says, signals a willingness among the Alliance to share authority in a future government.

Frankenberger concludes, "It is high time to get a diplomatic process under way that replaces all previous interventionist consultations and brings the major Afghan players to the negotiating table."


A "Stratfor" analysis looks at reports that thousands of foreign-born militant Islamists have joined Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Stratfor says these fighters, called "Afghan Arabs," include Arab nationals but also Filipinos, Chinese Uighurs, Indonesians, Malaysians, Bosnians, and Chechens. Many have fled Afghanistan since the Taliban's collapse and others have been executed by the advancing Northern Alliance. But "Stratfor" says that of those who survive, many will set up camp in various other nations to resume militant operations.

"Somalia and Chechnya are realistically the two areas where significant numbers of Afghan Arabs could set up camp. Their relatively close location to Afghanistan and already unstable situations would make it easier for large numbers of fighters to remain undetected. [These] fighters will return with experience, training, and a renewed network of contacts in other countries, [although they] will likely not take direct orders from [Osama] bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban."

"Stratfor" says a side effect of this dispersion of militants "may be the foundation of a second network of Islamic extremists. Just as the Soviet war against Afghanistan -- and the subsequent scattering of fighters -- produced a worldwide network of extremists, the American war in Afghanistan will produce a secondary network, one that might not be centered around Osama bin Laden."


A commentary in the "Los Angeles Times" says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush -- previously skeptical of Balkan peacekeeping missions -- may need to take lessons from these efforts in discussing the future of Afghanistan.

Analyst David Bosco, who worked in and reported from Bosnia in the late 1990s, says the collapse of the Taliban means a multinational force will become the likely guarantor of Afghanistan's immediate future. He says that while there can be no easy analogies, the NATO-led mission to Bosnia has generated a "wealth of experience on how to hold together a war-torn and ethnically divided country."

Bosco lists five broad lessons that can be applied to Afghanistan: First, he says, take military options off the table for the factions by giving peacekeepers adequate military capabilities. Second, take into account the attitudes of neighboring nations such as Pakistan and Iran. Third, don't rush elections. As Bosco says, "A prolonged period of peace can be a vital tonic for a population disposed to heed the call of ethnic or religious extremists at the ballot box." Fourth, consider the political benefits of an international war crimes tribunal.

Lastly, Bosco says, the international community must be prepared for the long haul. "A lasting political settlement may be very different from the one planners initially envision," he writes, "but sustained involvement will at least give the international community a say."


In a contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," Frederick Starr of the Johns Hopkins Central Asia-Caucasus Institute says that several major challenges remain in Afghanistan, and the failure of any one of them could plunge the nation into chaos. The first challenge, he says, is mitigating the current supremacy of the mostly Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance. By disregarding the antiterrorism coalition's requests not to enter Kabul before a broad-based government could be formed, Starr says the Alliance could not have found a better way of inflaming the passions of Afghanistan's Pashtun majority.

The formation of a new government is the next step, says Starr. "Afghanistan should be ruled by a unitary and effective central government based on the existing and historical 29 provinces. Central power must be reinforced, so that it can patrol the borders, collect taxes, provide services equitably, stamp out opium poppies, and act on the world stage as a single state."

Lastly, Star says, increasing international aid is of paramount importance; even the best government will fail without it. "Unless people are first enabled to feed themselves and create remunerative jobs for themselves, Afghanistan will quickly descend once more into anarchy." Starr suggests working with local Afghan people "to reopen mountainside irrigation channels, obtain better seeds, establish communal organizations of self-government, and extend small loans."


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Karl Grobe discusses next week's conference on Afghanistan, set to take place in Bonn. He says that apart from each Afghan faction promoting its own interests, the UN-sponsored conference must also find an answer regarding how to prevent further ethnic strife and confrontation in the war-torn country.

Grobe says that the conference sponsors are also pursuing their own interests. Germany feels involved because the conference is being held in Bonn. And the U.S. is already proud of its achievement in defeating the Taliban -- although Grobe adds that without the 11 September terrorist attack, America would not have taken any action in the region.

Grobe says that this pursuit of self-interest demonstrates once again how Afghanistan has been the victim of power politics for over 20 years, ever since the former Soviet Union and the U.S. became involved in Afghan affairs. "Now [Iran and Uzbekistan] must also be brought to the negotiating table," Grobe says. Otherwise, "the foundation that is laid in Bonn will become absurd." He says it would be like "a foundation for a castle in the air, that is built on quicksand."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" considers last week's elections in Kosovo. It notes that Kosovo has remained essentially an international protectorate since 1999, and that NATO peacekeepers have managed to prevent further violence. But the elections, it says, "marked a different step forward. They indicate that perhaps Kosovo can become a democratic and tolerant multiethnic province. The Kosovo example suggests that Western military power and international organizations can work effectively to end bloodshed and halt ethnic violence."

The editorial cautions the newly elected Ibrahim Rugova from declaring Kosovo's independence, saying that "any moves towards independence would risk igniting warfare." "Rugova's real task will be to put together a coalition government, since his Democratic League party is 5 percentage points short of a majority in the legislature. The more parties that have a share in government -- including the party of the Serbs, who came in third -- the better the chances for a viable democracy."


In the U.S.-based "Business Week," global economics analyst Pete Engardio looks at the role of the International Monetary Fund. He says that the fund needs to refocus on its core mission -- solving and preventing global financial crises. In recent years, he says, the IMF has acted more as a Western foreign policy tool.

IMF officials, Engardio says, recognize that their institution had become vastly overextended. And it has gained a reputation for spending too much time pushing U.S. policy agendas. The IMF meeting in Ottawa last weekend was set to refocus the fund on its core mission. Instead, the meeting was dominated by issues such as how the IMF can help stop money laundering and terrorist funding -- themes that came largely at the U.S.'s behest.

The IMF has also damaged its credibility by appearing to adopt double standards. "IMF loan recipients viewed as strategic to the West, such as Russia, made a mockery of [loan-mandated] reform and seemed to get away with it. Yet the IMF [was harder] on countries such as Indonesia, which found it politically impossible to fulfill [the] conditions attached to its 1998 bailout. Many were at the behest of the U.S., which sought more open markets for its exports."

Engardio concludes, "If the fund is to regain credibility as a politically neutral source of financial and economic advice, it can't be seen as a Western foreign policy tool."


A news analysis by staff writers Doyle McManus and Robin Wright in the "Los Angeles Times" says the conflict in Afghanistan has revived a policy debate in the U.S. -- should Iraq be next?

The newspaper, quoting senior administration officials, says "not a drop of evidence" has yet been found to link Iraq with the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. But it also notes a consensus has strengthened in the White House in favor of an overall tougher policy toward Iraq. However, finding a way to get that done without losing the support of allies, one senior official says, has been "a study in frustration."

The analysis notes that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has remained in power despite 10 years of UN economic sanctions. He expelled UN arms inspectors and withstood the U.S. air strikes that followed. Earlier this year, the Bush administration proposed reinstituting UN weapons inspections in Iraq in exchange for looser economic sanctions, "only to see Russia block the idea in the UN Security Council."

But the paper quotes White House officials as saying that if evidence does turn up linking Baghdad with 11 September, "administration officials would be virtually unanimous in favoring military retaliation." The newspaper quotes Charles Duelfer, the former U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, as saying he believes information will be collected in Afghanistan that will make exchanges between Iraqi individuals and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network "very clear, almost irrefutable."


In France's daily "Liberation," columnist Eric Dupin considers the fate of Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the 11 September terrorist attacks. Hundreds of U.S. and British special forces are thought to be scouring the Afghan countryside for him, and Dupin examines the possibilities. Should bin Laden be apprehended and brought before a court of law? he asks. Dupin notes that some have suggested that the Saudi-born extremist does not "deserve" such a fair, evenhanded fate. "American opinion," he writes -- agitated by the fear of terrorism -- "is not far from shouting vengeance." He cites a Canadian newspaper ("The Toronto Star") as reporting that six Americans out of 10 approve the assassination of foreign leaders who sponsor terror. Dupin adds that three of 10 now favor torturing suspects.

Some observers warn that a trial would allow bin Laden and his followers a "propaganda victory," by giving them a forum in which to air their views. Alternatively, if bin Laden is killed in a bombardment there may be no physical proof of his death; the search for him may have to end without this certainty. Regardless of what happens, Dupin says, bin Laden's image has already been seriously damaged by the Taliban's retreat, and he may ultimately be remembered more as a loser than as a martyr.


In Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper, Seumas Milne also looks at the current situation in Afghanistan. He says that the "return of lawlessness and competing warlords was an inevitable and foreseen consequence of Anglo-American support for the long-discredited Northern Alliance, just as the humanitarian disaster has been the widely predicted outcome of the attack on Afghanistan."

The Northern Alliance, known for its raping and looting, has been filmed maiming and executing prisoners. Even so, the paper says, they have been praised by the U.S. and Britain for their "restraint." By supporting the alliance so decisively, Milne says, the two nations become "indirectly complicit in what are unquestionably war crimes." In addition, Milne says the U.S.-led war against the Taliban has "so dominated the global response to the atrocities of 11 September, that it is hard to remember that [they] probably had nothing directly to do with them. Despite the best endeavors of U.S. investigators to make the link, there seems to be no reliable evidence that the hijackers even trained in Afghanistan -- though several did in the U.S."

"The case against the Afghan war [was] primarily that it would lead to large-scale civilian casualties, fail to stamp out anti-Western terrorism, create a political backlash throughout the Muslim world, and actually increase the likelihood of further attacks. In the absence of any serious effort to address the grievances underlying anti-U.S. hatred, that argument has been strengthened."

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