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Western Press Review: The Bin Laden Videotape, Indian-Pakistani Tensions, And The IMF's Role In Argentina's Crisis

Prague, 28 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press today discuss the videotape released yesterday of Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks. Analyses also look at reevaluating the role of the International Monetary Fund in the wake of the Argentinean financial crisis; heightened tensions between India and Pakistan following the 13 December attack on India's parliament building; civil liberties in Vladimir Putin's Russia; and the situation in the Middle East.


Several commentators today discuss the latest videotape from Osama bin Laden, and try to glean some insight into the workings of the suspected terrorist. In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that the tape shows "the crude logic of a man who is confusing cause and effect, whose political symbolism has lost all touch with reality and who, in the inevitability of his own defeat, can cling only to this last shred of hope -- that the scenes he performs on his dwindling political stage may still find a faint echo in the Arab-Muslim world."

Frankenberger observes that bin Laden referred to the "blessed" September attacks, and called the American reaction to them "a fierce crusade against Islam." But, Frankenberger says, "the fight against the Islamic terrorist network, [Al-] Qaeda, and the fundamentalist Taliban regime is no crusade against Islam." Nor can a political or moral justification be claimed for the mass murder of thousands, he says.

"Bin Laden's attempt to portray himself as a protagonist in a war between cultures and as a savior of Muslims defying the greatest power on earth has failed. His Islamist terrorism has abused religion, and he has seriously harmed Islam and the reputation of Muslims."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," a global economist for Bear Stearns brokerage firm, David Malpass, considers Argentina's financial crisis and the role in the collapse played by the International Monetary Fund. Malpass says the IMF "systematically impoverishes" the nations it intends to help. Its economic policies -- "which can be summarized as unstable currencies and high tax rates -- are causing trouble not only in Argentina but elsewhere."

He continues: "The IMF's policy pattern [is] clear. It gives countries bad economic advice, then lends heavily to them, allows them to waste the new funds, and watches as the government's popularity plummets. When the economic crisis is deep, the IMF blames the government and pulls the plug. [In] Argentina, as elsewhere, the population and the private sector are left holding the bag." The result, says Malpass, "is a country more deeply impoverished than it would have been without IMF involvement."

The IMF, he says, must break this cycle. It needs "a new vision based on sound money, limited government, lower tax rates, free trade, and a belief that people at the bottom of the economic ladder should be able to move up." Malpass concludes, "The IMF needs to make growth its mission, not austerity or balanced budgets."


In "The New York Times," Nicholas Kristof looks at rising tensions between India and Pakistan following the 13 December attack on India's parliament building, alleged to have been the work of Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatists. Kristof says the risks of this standoff between the two nuclear powers are "cataclysmic," and calls on Washington to do more, by "extracting concessions from Pakistan, but mostly by emphasizing to India that it must come to its senses and stand down."

Kristof says the main problem in this situation is that "India is behaving as if it and Pakistan were still two-bit countries. [Having] pulled both itself and Pakistan into the nuclear club, India has to calm down and engage Pakistan with the same terrified delicacy with which the United States, Russia, and China treat each other." Kristof continues: "There is a double standard in international affairs, and India had better recognize it quickly. It is this: Major powers periodically invade minor countries that irritate them, but they do not lightly mess with other nuclear states."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf must arrest anti-Indian militants, says Kristof. But India, he adds, must also "tone down its talk of war, back off on military mobilization and ease up on its harsh rule in Kashmir."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that although Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan may have been destroyed, and the terrorist leader himself may have been killed, the "war of ideas" that bin Laden has waged against the West "goes on unabated." The editorial says the effort to discredit bin Laden and his "pseudo-Islamic" rhetoric "remains a formidable challenge, especially in the Arab Middle East."

The paper says this is because "the largest obstacle to winning the war [remains] unchanged today. The autocratic Egyptian and Saudi governments, whose countries have supplied the bulk of Al-Qaeda's leadership and thousands of its raw recruits, have done little to counter Osama bin Laden's message, or to offer a credible political alternative."

The paper says Egyptian and Saudi leaders have "reacted angrily to suggestions [that] the principle cause of Islamic extremism is not Israel or the United States but their own practice of denying political and economic freedom to their people, while tolerating and even encouraging anti-Semitic and anti-Western media and clerics." The paper says these governments "and the state media they control continue to avoid condemnations of the terrorists while echoing their rhetoric, which blames Israel and the United States for all the troubles of the Muslim world."


Writing in London's "Financial Times," Alexander Nicoll looks at the role of "special forces" in the military campaign in Afghanistan. He says that the skills of these elite units, comprising only a few thousand men from a handful of countries, are "tailor-made" for the war in Afghanistan.

Nicoll says Northern Alliance commanders required help if they were going to succeed against the Taliban. U.S. commanders also wanted the alliance to make headway, in order to avoid "having to deploy thousands of U.S. soldiers to fight a long and nasty war." Special forces, Nicoll writes, "were the means of achieving both parties' objectives without the need for a formal alliance -- Washington being wary of forging too close a bond with what had once been a brutal and failed regime.

Once relationships had been built by U.S. and British soldiers secretly infiltrated into Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance received equipment, supplies, advice, and, most important, air support. U.S. bombers were given targeting coordinates by special forces soldiers on the ground and the Taliban was rapidly forced to retreat." These elite units, Nicoll concludes, will continue to play a vital and increased role in the campaign against terrorism.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses the sentencing of Russian military journalist Grigorii Pasko on 25 December to four years in prison for "intending to transfer" documents to a Japanese journalist on Russia's illegal dumping of toxic waste into the Sea of Japan.

Russia's secret service, the FSB, pursued the case intently, appealing to a higher court when Pasko was acquitted at a first trial. The paper says that "in the FSB's zero-sum world, criticism of Russia is tantamount to betrayal. [Pasko's] conviction is [a] victory for the FSB, [and] that can only have the desired effect of chilling journalism that shines an unwelcome light on the failings of the Russian state."

Truth has had "a bad year in Russia," the editorial continues, citing the dismantling of Russia's only two major independent television stations, NTV and TV-6. "All of this casts a pall on the otherwise commendable economic reforms undertaken by the Putin administration, and the encouraging pledges for institutional reform. The abuses cannot be ignored by the West as simply internal matters of no concern to the outside world." Putin's Russia, the paper continues, has a side that is "wholly inconsistent with real democracy. [At] some point, Mr. Putin will have to choose between a state that exists to serve its citizens; and one that pursues its own ends foremost."


In France's daily "Liberation," Middle East correspondent Alexandra Schwartzbrod says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is "slowing down the resumption of dialogue" between the Palestinians and Israelis. Sharon rejected as "unacceptable" what Schwartzbrod calls the "glimmer of hope" jointly proposed this week by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the president of the Palestinian parliament, Abou Alaa. Under this plan, a Palestinian state would have been declared and recognized by Israel on the territories already under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

But this project, Schwartzbrod writes, seems "far from [becoming] a reality." She notes that the Israeli army conducted a new raid yesterday (27 December) on students suspected of being associated with Hamas. In addition, she says, the extension of the prohibition placed on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, from entering Bethlehem for Christmas Mass -- and now to apply also through Orthodox Christmas on 6 January -- was a "provocation likely to lead to a 'new explosion' in the territories."