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Western Press Review: Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Political Struggles, And Kostunica's Isolation

Prague, 10 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today discusses the situation in Afghanistan, Italy under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the struggle between Kyrgyzstan's executive and legislative branches. Other topics include Poland and the EU, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's economic woes, and Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica's political isolation.


Columnist Thomas Schmid writes in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Italy. Schmid says that even Berlusconi's "wonder government" has merely followed the well-worn path of former Italian governments. He criticizes Italy's lack of resolve on the issue of the European Union. Schmid says that "it is not new determination, but rather more of the old inefficiency" that characterizes the government.

Schmid says Berlusconi "still has not grasped that 1 January 2002 marked the dawn of a new era and that dragging one's feet on Europe is now a far graver offense than the peccadillo it once was. Mr. Berlusconi has failed to silence the chorus of Euroskeptics within his own cabinet, nor has he tried to define a European policy that is binding for everyone in his government."

Schmid says that after the sudden resignation over the weekend of Berlusconi's pro-European foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, "the EU is no longer a matter of course in Italy." It is high time, he says, that Berlusconi initiated a "serious and wide-ranging" debate on the EU.


An editorial in "The Times" of London looks at reports that senior Taliban figures captured in Afghanistan have been allowed to negotiate their release and go free. The paper calls yesterday's (9 January) release in Kandahar of the Taliban's former ministers of defense and justice "farcical."

"It would be impractical for either the interim Afghan government or the United States to insist that every individual linked to the Taliban be incarcerated. But these individuals cannot be dismissed as simple foot soldiers. [It] is the height of innocence to assume that they are not a potential threat to political order."

The paper goes on to say: "There are many legitimate arguments to be made as to how exactly those captured in Afghanistan should be dealt with and which kind of court of law might be used to administer justice. In some cases, the trial process should be left to the authorities in Kabul and in others a special and specific international institution may be required."

But "The Times" adds that, for now, "the most important matter is to ensure that all those who might be a threat to security within Afghanistan, who are suspected of human rights abuses or who assisted [Osama] bin Laden in his enterprise, [are] questioned. Despite the undoubted difficulties they will face, Afghan officials cannot afford to let Taliban leaders remain at liberty."


An analysis in "Eurasia View" by Alisher Khamidov at Notre Dame University's Institute of Peace Studies looks at the growing tensions in Kyrgyzstan between the legislative and executive branches of the government.

The arrest of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov on abuse-of-power charges -- stemming from the alleged mishandling of a 1995 murder case while Beknazarov was a district prosecutor -- is suspected of being politically motivated. Beknazarov had also been critical of President Askar Akaev's decision to cede Kyrgyz territory to China.

The author notes that human rights monitors in Kyrgyzstan allege Beknazarov's arrest "signals an intensification of a political crackdown carried out by President Askar Akaev's administration. The president has long sought to limit the influence of his political opponents."

He cites analysts as saying Akaev's administration now "appears intent on stifling all domestic criticism of its policies."

Khamidov says some observers believe the intensification of the crackdown "is connected with the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign. Akaev, they say, is taking advantage of the United States' preoccupation with containing terrorism by casting his domestic political opponents and unsanctioned religious activists as potential security threats," he writes.

Khamidov adds that if Beknazarov's arrest "does not have the desired effect of silencing Akaev's opposition in parliament, a few observers express concern that the president might resort to dissolving the legislature."


A Stratfor analysis says that the resignation of Yugoslavia's finance minister, Jovan Rankovic, cements what it calls President Vojislav Kostunica's "political isolation." Stratfor says Rankovic was the president's "final ally" in the Yugoslav cabinet, and suggests that this development leaves Kostunica "virtually powerless." Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, it says, is now the main political force within the government.

"Clashes between Kostunica and the reform-minded Djindjic were inevitable," says Stratfor. The two disagreed over former President Slobodan Milosevic's extradition to The Hague, as well as cooperation with NATO in Kosovo and several economic reform plans. But the analysis says Djindjic "not only had the ear of Yugoslavia's neighbors -- in addition to that of Washington, Brussels, and the major international financial institutions -- but he also held the reins of the Serbian government."

"With the nationalistic and populist Kostunica finally neutralized, the government of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic may now intensify its broadly pro-Western reform path with far less interference. That will lead Belgrade closer to both the European Union and NATO, allowing it to regain its position as the Balkan Peninsula's power broker."

Djindjic's long-term goal, says Stratfor, "is to get the country into the European Union, although this will most certainly take many years to accomplish."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at German unemployment. It says when Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder took office in October 1998, he promised to make this issue a central focus of his administration. At the time, more than 10 percent of the working-age population was out of work. "Since then," says the paper, "Mr. Schroeder has tried just about every trick in the book to make the numbers go his way." It names a litany of attempts by the chancellor to address this problem, but notes that today, unemployment "is again approaching the 10 percent mark."

The paper's advice is to make the low-wage sector exempt from Germany's rigid wage structure and create "welfare-to-work" programs. Other needed measures, it says, "include doing away with binding labor agreements in favor of flexible company- or individual-specific contracts, offering tax incentives to the self-employed, and loosening rules [which make] firing in even small companies all but impossible."

"These measures will, of course, require Mr. Schroeder to face the wrath of Germany's powerful trade unions. But with an election coming up this year and polls showing increasing support for the conservative opposition, that may seem preferable to facing the wrath of the German voter."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" looks at the difficulties facing Poland on its path to EU accession. Public support for membership remains high, it says, but Poland "has its work cut out."

"Sensitive talks still lie ahead on budgetary affairs, agriculture, and regional aid. It must also demonstrate progress on aspects of institutional readiness, from policing borders to registering livestock on its farms."

Many of these issues are expected to be extremely controversial among Poles. And "with Poland's formerly rapidly growing gross domestic product expanding barely 1 percent a year and unemployment above 16 percent," the "Financial Times" says, "the public mood is souring." The paper also notes that Euroskeptic parties are growing in popularity. "The government fears that a failure to join the first wave could lead to Poland lurching further to the populist left."

Another danger, it says, "is that Poland [squeaks] through on negotiations but is institutionally and economically unprepared for membership." The paper notes that Polish officials say "the most serious work remains to be done in the area of institutional readiness. Brussels has chided Poland, and other candidates, for gaps in its preparation. Its assessment of Poland's progress in the commission's report on candidate countries in October or November will in large part decide whether it passes muster for the first group."


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" looks at the procedures being instituted for trying prisoners from the campaign in Afghanistan. "Le Monde" says that it is necessary that the trials be fair and accurate, and that they are perceived as such. If they are not, the paper says "there is a great risk that the verdict will look like a denial of justice in the eyes of many -- [such as] those who sympathized with a movement that they perceived was questioning the domination of the West -- and will make them martyrs."

The paper says it would have been better to try the prisoners in an international court or in American civil proceedings, which would have more legitimacy than the proposed military tribunals. The paper says Washington must now agree to provide guarantees of a fair trial, including the right to appeal and to use civilian lawyers. The paper says the difference between Al-Qaeda and democratic civilization is the "respect for the fundamental values." To compromise these would sow the seeds of doubt regarding the legitimacy of the military courts and would exacerbate, throughout the world, the concerns regarding the unilateralism of a U.S. administration that is already planning to take its anti-terrorism campaign to other nations.


The German paper "Die Welt" carries a commentary by Michael Maenninger in which he sees "an end to the EU traveling circus." Maenninger says Brussels is gradually being recognized as the genuine EU headquarters. When Denmark assumes the EU chairmanship in the second half of this year, he says, the summit will not be held there but in Brussels -- which means that the resolution adopted in Nice establishing Brussels as the permanent site for all EU summits will become a reality for the first time. Maenninger observes that following the introduction of the euro, this move may be yet another indication of the EU's more rational thinking.


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Stefan Kornelius considers where the U.S. will take on terrorists next --- Somalia, Yemen, or Indonesia. Kornelius cites an interview with Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. deputy defense secretary. Wolfowitz is the spokesman for an influential minority that views Iraq as a valid target for antiterrorism operations, Kornelius says, and it is therefore interesting to note which option is no longer on the table. Iraq has disappeared from Wolfowitz's list, says Kornelius, which is the most surprising modification in U.S. strategy.

But a closer analysis of policy, Kornelius observes, indicates something else. "America has exhausted its war targets not because terrorism has suddenly disappeared, but because the purpose and means cannot be so simply equated as in Afghanistan. In no other country in the world is Al-Qaeda terrorism so closely linked with a state structure as in Afghanistan." So in no other country can terrorism be combated by fighting a state, he says.

But there are two vital points to consider: America is finding it ever more difficult to convince its allies to engage in an antiterror war on a large scale. The superpower must admit its limitations. It must struggle to keep the alliance intact to avoid a political fiasco, he says.

Secondly, home politics are becoming a growing concern. Slowly but surely, U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration must take into account that everyday social problems at home have not vanished.


In Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper, Richard Norton-Taylor says there is no military solution to the threat of terrorism. "The bombing continues long after 'enemy forces,' by [Western leaders'] own admission, have been routed. Bombing will not bring anyone to account, or to justice, [nor] will it provide [more] intelligence about any threat still posed by Al-Qaeda."

The author adds that by now, the bombing "has become so routine that it is relegated to the inside pages of newspapers or not recorded at all, in much the same way as the continued bombing of Iraq by American and British pilots over the southern and northern 'no-fly' zones. But is the world a safer place?" he asks.

Norton-Taylor goes on to say, "Even complete military success in Afghanistan will not destroy the terrorist threat." He says, "Advances in communications and encryption [obviates] the need for Al-Qaeda to have any territorial base." The organization, he says, could easily become primarily virtual, and still carry out its missions without providing a physical target for those who wish to eradicate it.

Regarding neutralizing terrorism in the future, Norton-Taylor says: "Much will depend on the increasingly uncertain relationship between the West and autocratic Arab [regimes]. It will depend on their economic and social policies."

One thing is certain, he says. There "is no military solution to the fight against terrorism, and no military deterrent to prevent it."

(Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)