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Western Press Review: A Political Plan For Afghanistan And Escalating Mideast Violence

Prague, 5 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue to focus their discussion today on the escalating violence in the Middle East and the ongoing U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Several express hope that the agreement reached near Bonn, Germany, between four Afghan factions may provide the groundwork for a broadly representative government that will bring peace and stability to Afghanistan after two decades of war.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says that although the chances of successfully reconstructing Afghanistan may still seem remote, the deal reached in Bonn is "a good and necessary start." It writes: "A temporary government should be able to restore some semblance of order, help coordinate international relief efforts and prepare for a more permanent government."

The editorial adds that the outline deal "is a credit to the perseverance of Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy who chaired the meeting, and the behind-the-scenes prompting of foreign governments."

The "Financial Times" calls on the United Nations to "move quickly to muster a skeletal peacekeeping force [to] help demilitarize Kabul and facilitate humanitarian relief efforts." It says "a semi-functional central administration in Kabul can take important steps towarsd reconstruction as long as it is backed sufficiently strongly by the international community. The rapid provision of financial assistance to the better-managed regions of the country could have a striking demonstration effect."

The editorial concludes by saying, "The momentum must now be maintained."


An editorial in "The New York Times" maintains a skeptical tone as it discusses the plans drawn up for Afghanistan in the past week. It writes: "Whatever the various factions come up with will not be easy to sustain and should not be mistaken by outsiders for anything approaching a national unity government capable of extending its rule throughout the land. But almost anything would be better than the Taliban or the anarchy that prevailed after the last Soviet-installed dictator was ousted in 1992."

But "many essential details of these arrangements remain to be settled and may never come to pass as envisioned," it continues. The most important part of the plan, it says, "is getting the initial interim council installed quickly, so that it can take over power from the acting government established by the Northern Alliance militias now running Kabul."

The editorial says the plan arising out of the Afghan meetings in Germany are "at best the first step in the difficult process of building a government broad and effective enough to meet the basic needs of Afghanistan's people and deny its territory to future terrorists."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," political analyst Peter Feaver says that "in the crucial theater of European public opinion, the war on terror is far from won."

Feaver compares the differences in perception between the United States and Britain regarding the 11 September attacks. He writes: "Americans view the terrorist attacks as a world-changing event, and expect to see the policies of other governments adjust to the new reality. Britons seem to view the attacks as an America-changing event, and thus expect to see American policies adjust, whether on missile defense, multilateralism, support for Israel or other issues."

Media coverage in Britain and in Europe reflects this perception gap, says Feaver, and coverage is even less favorable on the continent.

Feaver says that if the antiterrorism campaign is to extend beyond Afghanistan, the U.S. administration will need all the public-relations help it can get to keep European support. But there are grounds for optimism, he says.

"Europeans, on the whole, share American values. [The] Bush administration's renewed [public relations] focus is tailor-made to address the exacerbating factor of foreign media bias. Nevertheless," says Feaver, "the president should not assume that the allies see the world in the same way Americans do."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" calls former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani "a ghost" that haunts the Petersberg talks in Germany. This Northern Alliance leader in Kabul has, time and again, managed to come close to toppling the already strained talks on Afghanistan's future, which have been going on for more than a week near Bonn. Now, it says, for the first time, after intervention from the Germans and Russians, Rabbani has been silenced. But it adds, "This ghost has not been silenced by a long shot."

The editorial says the problem lies in the failure of the UN to recognize how to mollify Rabbani's ambitions permanently, for it says there is no room for Rabbani among the younger generation dominating the Northern Alliance. It writes: "This has embittered him and no one knows what damage he is likely to perpetrate in the future."

The editorial says UN special envoy to Afghanistan and Bonn meeting chairman Lakhdar Brahimi should be applauded for preventing Rabbani from disrupting the talks. Nevertheless, the newspaper remarks, "Petersberg is not Kabul. When the interim government goes into business in earnest, Rabbani will have incomparably greater chances of mobilizing his Northern Alliance brothers-in-arms."

The editorial advises the UN to watch Rabbani carefully to prevent the destruction of what Brahimi has so painstakingly built.


In a contribution to Britain's "The Independent," Arie Arnon says that at negotiations in July 2000 and January 2001, the Israelis and Palestinians were very close to reaching an agreement. Both would have had to make concessions, but Arnon says opinion polls showed majorities on both sides favored making tough concessions.

Arnon writes: "Unfortunately, those who were unwilling to give up their long-cherished desires were able to scupper the agreements. [The] result was the rise of a popular view on both sides: that there was no partner for peace on the other [side]. That realization was followed by the Intifada, the election of [Prime Minister and former Israeli Army brigadier general] Ariel Sharon, and the ever-escalating violence. Now we have reached a point where the masses on both sides have also taken up the more radical positions, and the hawks have the upper hand."

Arnon says that for a long time, the extreme right-wing in Israel has wished to break down the Palestinian Authority. Arnan says that with its statement that the Palestinian Authority supports terrorists, the Israeli government has taken this a step further.

But Arnan says this will not serve what should be the aim of Israeli government policy: "to control the terrorists. In fact," Arnan writes, "these actions will make it harder for the Palestinian Authority to implement a cease-fire in its area."


In Belgium's "Le Soir" newspaper, Agnes Gorissen asks: "How long is the world going to watch the Middle East sinking into horror?" She calls on the international community to intervene, with force if necessary. It is past time for the world's policy of non-intervention, she says.

The international community, through the United Nations, has the means to intervene if it wishes to, says Gorissen. She notes that the European Union proposed sending international observers to the region several months ago, but has not because Israel opposes it.

Gorissen questions why Israel should object to the observers. She writes: "If, as the Hebrew state claims, [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat is doing nothing to stop terrorism, international observers can confirm this. [The UN's] blue helmets or another force appointed by the UN could even arrest kamikaze suspects. Naturally," she says, "these observers would also [be the first] to notice, and denounce, possible Israeli excesses."

Gorissen says no one would gain anything from the elimination of the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, as has been suggested. No one would gain if the voice of the Palestinians was seized by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, she says -- neither the Palestinians, nor the Israelis, nor the rest of the world, which claims to be so concerned with stopping terrorism.


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the subject of an editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" today. The editorial notes that Israel is no longer making any attempt at a political response to Palestinian suicide bombings. All attention is now centered on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was regarded as an integrating element by previous Israeli statesmen. But the editorial says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would like to be rid of Arafat, since he has done next to nothing to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel.

However, the paper questions the wisdom of such a move and wonders if Arafat's removal might generate even more terror from extremists. There is also no reason to believe that a new leader would have any more authority, it says.

The editorial notes: "Israel may be discontented with Arafat, but the Palestinians are equally dissatisfied with Sharon, a man with a past," it says -- a reference to Sharon's involvement in controversial Israeli military operations, including the Six Day War of 1967.

The main point of contention dates back 34 years, says the paper. Israel has occupied foreign territory and built settlements which are considered illegal by the international community. This question, and the issue of terrorism, are dangerously entangled, says the editorial.

As long as these issues are not settled through diplomacy, the violence will continue to escalate, it says. And both leaders are to blame.


An analysis in the U.S.-based magazine "Business Week" by Lee Walczak, Stan Crock, Paul Magnusson, and Frederik Balfour says that after the past week's inter-Afghan meetings near Bonn, Pakistan is "viewing the emerging shape of postwar Afghanistan with growing alarm." The Afghan neighbor, formerly a Taliban supporter, is earnestly looking to have a larger voice on postwar Afghanistan.

But the authors say Pakistan will not be marginalized, and may have something to gain. They write: "If stability is restored to Afghanistan, many of the two million Afghanis in Pakistan may go home, easing the political and economic strain. And [land-locked] Afghanistan will need Pakistan's trade routes to the Arabian Sea. That means a possible strengthening of economic ties between the two neighbors."

The analysis goes on to consider what the next target of the campaign against terror might be. Al-Qaeda forces in Somalia may be next, it says, and as long as the U.S. provides credible evidence that Al-Qaeda is operating in Somalia or elsewhere, the U.S. administration can expect multinational support.

But it warns, "All bets are off, however, when the subject turns to Iraq. The Russians, French and Chinese [are] uncomfortable with the idea of a military assault on Baghdad. Nor would such an operation go over well in the Arab-Muslim world," say the authors.


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," columnist Jonathan Freedland considers three possibilities underlying Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's launch of retaliatory strikes on Palestinian territories.

First, says Freedland, Sharon may merely be "lashing out" in revenge for the murder of 26 Israelis over the weekend. Or perhaps these are warning shots, he says, intended to tell Arafat he has one more chance to stop Palestinian extremists from carrying out terrorist acts. The third possibility, Freedland says, is that this may be "the beginning of a serious attempt to topple the Palestinian Authority, driving Arafat into exile and reshaping the entire political landscape."

Freedland writes: "And who does the Israeli right imagine would take the place of [Arafat's] regime? Surely, the vacuum would be filled either by chaos and anarchy or [the] extremists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Both would be much less amenable than Arafat. While he remains a secular politician committed to a two-state solution that places the future Palestine alongside Israel, the Islamists want the total destruction of the Jewish state."

Freedland goes on to say that some of Arafat's critics say his flaw "is not so much malice as weakness; he no longer carries his people with him and cannot deliver. On terrorism they charge that [Arafat] is simply unable to root it out.... [If] he cannot bring peace, they ask, what's the point of dealing with him?"


A Stratfor commentary says that, ironically, the goals of Israel's Prime Minister Sharon and those of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas are similar: to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and discredit Yasser Arafat.

"By keeping the conflict hot," says Stratfor, "both Israeli and Palestinian hard-liners are removing any possibility of a negotiated settlement, which Arafat has advocated for a decade. Both sides think they can eventually control all of Israel, but they first need to remove the Palestinian Authority."

Stratfor writes: "The Sharon government considers Arafat a greater threat than Islamic extremist groups such as Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Israel's strategy will be to maintain military pressure on the West Bank and Gaza, but this will lead to more attacks by extremist groups. It will also reduce Arafat's relevancy to the conflict, weakening his legitimacy at home and abroad."

In the end, says Stratfor, Sharon "would rather fight a war with extremists than lose Israeli territory to negotiations with Arafat."


An analysis by Derek Scally in "The Irish Times" considers the signing of an agreement today by four Afghan factions that establishes an interim administration to take power in Kabul. Twenty-nine candidates will be selected to serve on the new administration.

Scally says special UN envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi "is determined that the candidates will reflect Afghanistan's ethnic balance. The final agreement also contains several references to the need for participation of women in Afghan society and the need for 'gender sensitivity.' Delegates have also discussed creating a Ministry for Women and Children, which could be headed by one of the female delegates at the talks," writes Scally.

Scally cites observers as saying that former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's representative at the talks, Yunus Qanuni, "appeared intent on sidelining Mr. Rabbani" with the help of Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. He quotes a U.S. diplomat observing the talks as saying, "As soon as these guys check out of their hotel rooms tomorrow, there is going to be a power struggle in Afghanistan like you wouldn't believe."


In Britain's "Financial Times," a news analysis by Carola Hoyos on the inter-Afghan meetings near Bonn says that, "under pressure from the U.S. and other countries determined to rid Afghanistan of its terrorist element, the Northern Alliance's younger, more moderate leadership seemed finally to have sidelined Burhanuddin Rabbani. The group's 61-year-old president's reluctance to cede his newfound power in Kabul has throughout kept the success of the meeting hanging in the balance."

Hoyos says the "breakthrough" came when Rabbani "finally capitulated and submitted a list of his choices for the 29-member cabinet, including four candidates to head the interim administrative group. Delegates decided on Washington's number one choice, [Pashtun tribal chief] Hamid Karzai, to be leader."

But the euphoria following the success of the talks could be short-lived, she says. "The real test will come when the Afghan leaders go back to Kabul -- some after more than 20 years of exile -- to implement their plan."

Hoyos writes: "It is now up to the UN's Security Council, especially its five permanent members -- Russia, China, France, the U.K. and the U.S. -- quickly to authorize a force with a strong enough mandate to survive in a country which has several times proved its opposition to foreign armies."

The challenge for the international community has just begun.

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