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Western Press Review: Afghanistan, U.S.-Russia Relations And Tensions In Kashmir

Prague, 19 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press continues to focus on the war on terrorism. While some consider how 11 September has shifted geopolitical alliances and attitudes, others wonder what the next phase of the antiterror campaign operation will be. Other topics include U.S.-Russian relations in light of America's imminent withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Middle East, and Pakistan's terrorist threat as tensions continue to brew in Kashmir.


In a comment published in the "International Herald Tribune," Balkan and Russian affairs analyst Anatol Lieven looks at the war on terrorism and notes that the factors giving rise to terrorist groups are often socioeconomic in origin. "Terrorist groups must be combated but so, too, must be the factors that impel populations to give those groups support and shelter. U.S. military action will be only one element of U.S. strategy, and usually not the most important. A central danger is that anti-Western forces will succeed in carrying out revolutions in important states, seizing control, and turning them into bases for anti-Western actions. While the ideology of radical Islamism is, of course, fundamentally religious, it also profits critically from socioeconomic discontent and the failure of existing Muslim states to achieve progress toward prosperous democracy."


Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger considers yesterday's remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warning NATO defense ministers to increase security and defense spending in the face of the terrorist threat. "Until this [autumn], Europeans were often dismissive when the Americans warned of grave new threats. It was customary to reject such warnings as apocalyptic pretexts to justify new weapons research and procurement programs." But since September, he says, this has changed. "[Voices] dismissing or ignoring those alarms have become rarer," he writes.

Frankenberger says one part of a strategy of preparation includes "taking a close look at those countries where questionable governments are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. [It] would be irresponsible for Western security planners not to think about what could happen if weapons of mass destruction fell into the wrong hands. [The] havoc that could result if they succeeded is horrible to contemplate," says Frankenberger. He goes on to say that this emerging threat "perhaps makes the development of an anti-ballistic missile defense system less foolish than many insist."


In "The Washington Times," editorial page editor Helle Bering Dale discusses the surprisingly "moderate" way that Russian President Vladimir Putin took last week's announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by the two nations.

"The fact is that the Russians will continue to have enough nuclear warheads to overwhelm any missile defense system the United States might put in place, now and for the foreseeable future -- even with the proposed reduction of their arsenal to 1,200 to 2,200 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Mr. Putin knows this and has decided that other assets of the U.S.-Russian relationship are too valuable to sacrifice in the name of a lost cause."

She says this latest development is just one of "the extraordinary steps" Putin has taken since the September attacks on the United States. Dale mentions Putin's willingness to support the U.S. in its war on terrorism and his "toned-down rhetoric" on NATO expansion in the Baltics as two other recent shifts in Russian policy. Dale goes on to say that Putin "has not fundamentally changed, but is simply acting in what he believes is Russia's long-term interest." After all, she says, Putin's goal of "re-establishing Russia as a great power is a gargantuan task."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "is being forced to answer the crucial question of whether he can be the historic leader of the Palestinian national movement who succeeds in creating a viable state for his people."

The paper notes that over the weekend, Arafat ordered an end to military activities -- particularly suicide bombings -- and vowed to hunt down those responsible for such attacks. Arafat also stated that he wants all Palestinians to observe a cease-fire, even if the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not.

But the paper says if Arafat "cracks down on suicide bombers and Sharon nevertheless persists in his military siege of Palestinian communities, firing from tanks and F-16s, then Arafat will look to his people like Sharon's dupe." The paper says Sharon "appears quite willing" to see Arafat's demise as the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat's call for a cease-fire "corresponds to the deepest needs of his people and his own interest in remaining their leader," says the paper. But the militant factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad "do not seem to worry that their tactics are leading the Palestinian people down a blind alley." If these groups gain strength, and Arafat "loses control of the Palestinian national movement to the opportunists of armed struggle," the paper says, "his people will be doomed to many more years of stateless suffering."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" considers the suicide attack last week on the Indian parliament, which was followed by calls for Pakistan to rein in the Kashmiri separatists suspected to be responsible.

"It is no secret that Islamabad has long given covert support to Kashmiri militant groups operating from Pakistan. The Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's security service, has a particularly murky past in sponsoring unsavory extremist groups.... [Stirring] the pot in Kashmir has been viewed by the ISI as a cheap and effective means of redressing the military imbalance with India by pinning down large numbers of its troops."

But Pakistan "must stop this reckless adventurism," the paper says. What it calls "Pakistan's obsession with Kashmir," and tensions with India, have "diverted resources from its enfeebled economy and been a source of instability within Pakistan itself," it writes.

The "Financial Times" says renouncing extremism would benefit Pakistan "by changing the framework of the debate over Kashmir. The focus of attention would shift from India's legitimate security concerns to the political grievances of the Kashmiri people themselves. The onus would then be on India to respond."

The international community should "put more pressure on New Delhi to devise a political solution that is acceptable to the majority of the Kashmiri people," says the paper. But it adds, "Violence must play no part in resolving this dispute."


A "Stratfor" commentary looks at some of the logistical difficulties for the introduction of euro notes and coins, set to begin on 1 January. "Stratfor" calls this changeover the "most ambitious and permanent aspect of European integration to date."

But it says preparations for the switch have not gone particularly well, and the EU has not demonstrated the ability to deal with its possible negative impacts. "No matter how you slice it, there will be much confusion, especially as customers pay in the old currencies and receive change in the new euro. All of this confusion will lead to longer lines and slightly depressed spending, at a time when European consumer confidence and spending are both in the doldrums."

But the switchover will have more ill effects for Europe than mere inconvenience, says "Stratfor." "Retailers will naturally round their prices up as they shift prices into euros, leading to a one-off jump in inflation. [This] will most likely delay any future rate cuts by the often slow-to-react European Central Bank until after the euro adjustment period is over. That two-month delay could prove critical as Europe sinks into recession," it says.

"Stratfor" concludes, "The reluctance to address the coming euro switch indicates that the European Union is not adequately prepared to address the negative repercussions that may result from the changeover."


Several papers continue to carry commentary discussing the chipping away at civil liberties -- of both citizens and foreign visitors -- taking place in Western nations since the September attacks.

In "The New York Times," "Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune" editorial page editor Charles Levendosky says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "is creating a secret government -- a government accountable to no one but the president. Congress stomps and moans yet does little to stop the administration from hacking away constitutional checks and balances. And a majority of the American people awash in fear do not care."

He continues: "When a person from another country enters the United States, he or she receives many constitutional protections. The Bill of Rights speaks about the rights of people or persons, not citizens -- it does not limit its guarantees of freedom only to citizens." And yet, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft "has refused to disclose the identity of more than 500 people still being detained. Many have been shuffled from one jail to another, across state lines, so that they cannot contact attorneys to represent them."

Levendosky says that this practice is in direct contradiction to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights, which states: "No person deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."


Michael Stuermer considers the future of an Afghan security force in his commentary entitled, "Peace Without Peace," in Germany's "Die Welt." He says keeping the peace will be the hardest part of the operation in Afghanistan. He says the four Afghan factions agreeing on an interim government was the beginning, not the end.

"To speak of peace in a country lacking order is a self-delusion. This operation requires the cold acknowledgement of danger. That is why this operation must be dovetailed with NATO and the Americans."

Stuermer questions whether the European allies and the U.S. are seeing eye-to-eye on NATO's role in a security force. He says Afghanistan is a distant land, yet NATO's future may be decided there. The alliance constitutes Europe's existence and security, Stuermer concludes. "There is no alternative."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" observes that U.S. President Bush's announcement on 14 December of his intention to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty within six months has not introduced the expected "ice age between America and Russia."

In the short term, the paper says this move will make the Kremlin unpopular at home, but the long-term foreign policy benefits seem greater. Russian President Putin is aware that "Russia's role in the world can only be strengthened with, and not against, America."

This is why Putin is investing patience and yielding to pressure, the paper says. But soon he will have to present his public with dividends. Hence it serves him well that the U.S. and Russian defense ministers agreed on a reduction of atomic weapons in Brussels.

"At last, [this] could mean a new balance of reason rather than a balance of now-obsolete fear." For economic reasons, Moscow welcomes these developments. But the U.S. should desist from flexing its muscles in negotiations, the paper advises. Putin is willing to pay a high price for this new friendship. "But losing face would be too expensive," it says.


In this month's "Le Monde Diplomatique," Eric Rouleau considers the role of the Gulf states in the campaign against terrorism. "Despite misgivings, the governments of the Gulf have tried to carry out Washington's directives in the war against terrorism. They have provided the U.S. armed forces with every facility and have cooperated closely with the CIA and the FBI, French and British intelligence. [But] while Islamist activities have been successfully repressed in these states, the problem of secret financing of terrorist organizations remains."

But there is a lot of criticism in the Gulf of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Rouleau cites Doha's minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Hamadan bin Zayed, as saying: "It is inadmissible for any state to take it upon itself to overthrow the regime of another country, even if it's the most detestable in the world. The military campaign in Afghanistan is a dangerous precedent in international relations."

Rouleau says the Gulf states "all insist on the urgent need for the U.S. to cooperate closely with Europe and the UN to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and [to] end the repression of the intifada, which they all see as a legitimate uprising by an occupied and oppressed people. They all say that the demagoguery of [bin Laden], who is trying to legitimize his crimes by denouncing Washington's double standards, should not be a pretext for ignoring the mounting anger of Arab and Muslim opinion -- an anger at the root of all the extremisms."


In "The Washington Times," columnist Tony Blakely says that as the first phase of the antiterrorism campaign appears about be winding down, the strengths and weaknesses of the Afghan campaign are becoming clear.

The Taliban fell through a combination of U.S. airpower and anti-Taliban opposition fighters on the ground, backed by Western special forces. But Blakely says: "The key to the quick collapse of the Taliban was the presence [of] ample quantities of satellite phones. This permitted the local Afghan allies and enemies to bargain with each other, not face-to-face after a hard-to-arrange truce, but ear-to-ear in the middle of an ongoing battle. Agreements to defect, disperse, or surrender were haggled out as each side could see its men falling."

Just as importantly, he says: "These decisions were not left to Taliban senior officers. [This] newfound ability of relatively small fighting units to negotiate the specific terms of their departure from the battlefield while fighting [greatly] degraded the Taliban's capacity and readiness to resist the allied forces."

But because the West has so few forces on the ground, it is difficult to convince local Afghans to round up remaining Al-Qaeda members. Indeed, deals cut between the Northern Alliance and Taliban forces while negotiating their surrender might see many joining the winning side.

Blakely remarks, "After the fighting stops, even the closest allies-in-arms experience a divergence of interests."

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