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Western Press Review: Assessing The War In Afghanistan, Free Expression In Russia

Prague, 7 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press take a look at the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan on its three-month anniversary and attempt to assess its successes and failures. Other topics include upcoming elections and the economy in Germany, ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, free expression in Russia, Kazakhstan's antinuclear role, and the Armenian economy.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute and a professor of security studies at Georgetown University looks at some of the lessons to be learned from the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

First, he says, this operation shows "that it is impossible to know with certainty when and where new challenges will arise." Who would have expected an air attack on U.S. soil, followed by a U.S. war in a remote country? he asks.

A second lesson, says Thompson, is that despite advances in military equipment and organization, "geography still matters." He says Central Asia is a key strategic area, and America's current policy "of depending on weak, nondemocratic regimes to provide base access is doomed to failure."

A third lesson is that information technology is a revolution that will lead to huge gains in military capability. The idea that "unity of purpose" remains an important ingredient for military success is another lesson to be learned, says Thompson, while yet another highlights the weaknesses of the U.S.'s past military spending priorities.

Thompson says a final lesson is "the inescapable link between military power and money." Peace "is a fleeting condition, [and] war is never far away," he writes. "It is irresponsible to plan a military posture based on the presumption of amity, or early warning, or a predictability of threats," he says.


A news analysis by Bradley Graham of the "Washington Post Foreign Service" examines whether the U.S. approach in Afghanistan of relying on local anti-Taliban troops to do most of the on-the-ground military work has been successful.

American reliance on Afghan tribal militias to battle Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces and hunt down their leaders has been "a signature feature" of the war in Afghanistan, he says. "By counting on proxy forces to take the lead in ground operations, the Pentagon has reduced the potential loss of U.S. military lives and minimized political backlash in Muslim countries about an invading Western force," writes Graham. "But the strategy has come at a cost in military efficiency and U.S. control."

Critics contend that it has resulted in missed opportunities and inconclusive outcomes. "At least twice, central targets of the U.S. manhunt have seemed to slip narrowly past ground assaults led by Afghan forces," writes Graham. "[And] the ability of Afghan forces to complete the job [of] bringing the top fugitive leaders to justice remains uncertain."

With the fall of Taliban, he says, local leaders "have appeared more interested in consolidating their power than pursuing additional U.S. objectives." Graham says Pentagon officials defend their strategy but admit they "have had to make do with less control over events on the ground and accept a slower pace in some operations."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Jurgen Dunsch looks at Germany's economy in relation to its upcoming elections. He says German Finance Minister Hans Eishel has offered little but reassuring platitudes on the economic outlook lately. However, Dunsch adds, "Platitudes hold particular appeal in an election year."

But the federal government "will not be able to avoid giving a forecast for expected economic growth in concrete numbers," he says, adding that "the estimate isn't only a question of statistical data, always subject to basis data errors. The economic policy environment is also a factor."

Dunsch says the government's annual economic report, due out this month, will probably "be spiced with a mighty pinch of optimism. Whether the government will lend a hand with programs financed by debt, amounting to little actual relief, remains to be seen. After all -- and rather embarrassingly -- it will already be pretty apparent by the federal election in September whether the growth forecast holds."


An editorial in today's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses relations between India and Pakistan in light of the weekend conference (4-6 January) of South Asian countries in Katmandu. The editorial says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf took the initiative in offering to shake hands with his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee. But the paper says, "no use was made of the chance to ease tensions regarding the conflict over Kashmir." The strained situation provoked by the attack on the Indian parliament on 13 December has resulted in heavily armed troops lining the common border between the two countries, and "any further terrorist action could lead to a fourth war between the two countries," it says.

Yet the editorial observes that Pakistan has taken the initiative in identifying the terrorist perpetrators and taking them into custody. But Pakistan cannot go so far as to relinquish its claims to Kashmir, it says. Such an action would cause radicals to question Musharraf's position and peace would be jeopardized even more. Musharraf has shown willingness to reach a compromise, says the paper. It is now India's turn to make the next move.


Today's "International Herald Tribune" carries a news analysis by Philip Bowring on the India-Pakistan tensions. "War will surely be avoided this time around," Bowring says, but he adds that the issues run deep for both nations. "The struggle is not just about land," he says. "For India, the inclusion of a predominantly Muslim state within the borders of a plural nation is a living symbol of the country's secular status. As with Palestine, the division of India was forced on the majority by the colonial power. [For] Pakistanis, Kashmir is rightfully theirs as heirs to the Muslim-majority areas of British India." Kashmiris "would have chosen to join Pakistan in 1948, and they would do so today were they given self-determination," he says.

Bowring suggests that independence for Kashmir may be the best solution, and would also have benefits for India. While it would be difficult for India to accept, Bangladesh has already set a precedent. "India played the key role in the breakaway of the former East Pakistan to form Bangladesh," he writes. "And an independent Kashmir, with or without the Pakistani-ruled portion, would be tied more closely to India than to Pakistan. Meanwhile, if the Kashmir issues were defused, Pakistan's attention would shift to its western frontiers. Economic cooperation with Indian Punjab could flourish," Bowring adds.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" considers the Christmas Day (25 December) conviction of Russian journalist and former navy Captain Grigorii Pasko. Pasko was convicted on charges of treason for passing unclassified information on the Russian Navy dumping nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan to a Japanese television network. The editorial says, "Russian security services continue to treat as treasonous spies journalists, ecologists, and other citizens seeking to exercise basic rights of free expression."

The paper says Pasko's conviction "ought to trouble anyone who wishes to see Russia overcome its police-state past. The verdict casts doubt on the independence of the judiciary, or at least on its military branch."

The many inherent contradictions in Pasko's case may help him win his appeal, says the editorial. But they also indicate "that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin will have to work toward implementing a fair and consistent justice system if it wants Russia to join the club of democratic nations grounded in the rule of law. [The] strength of democratic societies resides in their ability to discover and correct their own deficiencies. When Pasko reported on the environmental calamity of his country's dumping of nuclear wastes, he was acting as an indispensable purifier of Russia's body politic. The security services seeking to punish him for telling truth to power are injecting the old totalitarian poisons into the new Russia."


Also in "The Boston Globe," Graham Allison says Kazakhstan must take the lead in creating a nuclear-free zone in Central Asia. Had Kazakhstan taken control of the nuclear warheads left on its territory at the collapse of the Soviet Union, he says, "it would [have] commanded an arsenal larger than those of the United Kingdom, France, and China combined." Instead, Kazakhstan "volunteered to return all nuclear weapons to Russia, signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and entered the world as a non-nuclear state." Allison adds that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev "has long been a vigorous supporter of the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in Central Asia."

But this campaign has encountered difficulties over the last several years, says Allison. Several Central Asian nations have expressed their willingness "to allow for the complete denuclearization of the region. Russia, however, has voiced objections."

"Nazarbaev must take the lead to overcome Russia's objections to the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone," says Allison. "The advantages of creating a stable region free of nuclear threat far outweigh whatever tactical advantages might be gained from a redeployment of nuclear weapons in Central Asia."

Allison says that during Nazarbaev's recent visit to Washington, the two countries reaffirmed several of their shared interests. Their presidents "should now instruct their governments to overcome remaining obstacles to assure that the nexus between Russia, China, Iran, and Afghanistan remains free of nuclear weapons."


In "Eurasia View," Yerevan-based journalist Haroutiun Khachatrian says that Armenia's economy, "despite having one of the most liberal legislative frameworks among the states of the former Soviet Union, is struggling with stubborn corruption and emigration." After its independence in 1991, Armenia created a stable banking system, privatized land, and sought rapid market transition, he says. However, unemployment has remained a persistent problem, and "between 800,000 and 1.2 million [of] the country's 3.8 million population have emigrated in search of work."

In recent years, Khachatrian says, "officials have attempted to implement a variety of job-creation programs and have passed laws designed to improve the business climate. On the policy level, these efforts have succeeded," he says. But growth throughout 2001 has appeared "to have little impact on living standards. Over half the population remains below the poverty line. [Armenians] remain dissatisfied with their country's economic performance, and continue to leave. The combination of a shrinking population and stubborn poverty creates something of a vicious cycle," says Khachatrian.

"The Spitak earthquake of 1988, the ongoing war in Nagorno-Karabakh, and sporadic blockades of communications passing through Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia make Armenian business especially slow going. But the core of the problem is the inability of authorities to implement legislation, especially in tax collection. In addition, corruption remains persistent," he says.


A editorial in "The Boston Globe" is critical of the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan in light of reports that Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect behind the September attacks on New York and Washington, may have escaped into Pakistan.

"U.S. intelligence fears that Osama bin Laden has left Afghanistan. If he has indeed survived, the question must be asked: Why was he not surrounded by a tight perimeter of U.S. ground forces when he was thought to be hiding in a cave near the Pakistan border? U.S. ground troops were needed not to fight their way up the mountainsides of Tora Bora but solely to cut off bin Laden's escape routes," it says. Now, the Pentagon must re-focus its attention on other parts of the world, Somalia included, to be ready to act should bin Laden or his followers be spotted somewhere else.

"It is worth risking some casualties to put bin Laden out of business. Otherwise Americans can expect to suffer more deadly terrorist attacks. Once bin Laden and the other bosses of his gang are eliminated, there is a good chance the diverse Islamist groups on the [Al-] Qaeda payroll will go their separate ways, resuming their original battles against well-defended secular regimes such as those in Egypt or Algeria."


An analysis in Belgium's daily "Le Soir" discusses the fact that, after three months of the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remain at large. The paper notes that their capture "officially constitute the principle objective of the war in Afghanistan." However, it says, Washington is no longer hiding the fact that it does not know where bin Laden is, says the paper.

Mullah Omar, for his part, "succeeded in escaping American forces and Afghan [troops] Saturday (5 January) [with] a motor bike," the paper notes. Omar, "who was reportedly surrounded for nearly a week by Afghan soldiers and U.S. commandos in a mountain village in Helmand province [is] thus, once again, on the run," writes "Le Soir." It adds that Omar's escape occurred while negotiations were taking place for his surrender.

But "Le Soir" says despite this setback, Afghan authorities are not acknowledging defeat. The paper cites an official in the south of Afghanistan as saying that they know where he is, but cannot reveal this information. Meanwhile, says "Le Soir," U.S. forces -- who have succeeded in capturing only a few top Taliban or Al-Qaeda officials -- are not losing hope of finding clues to bin Laden's whereabouts, as they "meticulously excavate the caves around Tora Bora in the east, where he was last located."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that the United States' "first political priority" is to strengthen the authority of interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai. But it says "that objective is complicated by the overriding American military priority of pursuing, capturing or killing the remaining Taliban and [Al-] Qaeda forces, particularly Osama bin Laden."

The editorial says that in its military campaign, the United States "has had to use as surrogates warlords who are doing Washington's bidding to expand their own power bases at the expense of their rivals. [Their] commitment to sustaining a strong government in Kabul may be nonexistent or temporary," it says.

"The United States will have to engage in some delicate diplomacy to keep these groups from collapsing into the kind of chaotic warfare that has engulfed Afghanistan in the past," adds the paper.

The paper says that it is necessary to pursue the remaining Al-Qaeda forces, as they "could very well re-emerge in the form of guerrilla insurgencies menacing the government in Kabul." But somehow, it says, "the United States must make sure that its military pursuit of the enemy does not undercut the chances of stabilizing [Karzai's] government."

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