Prague, 14 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today touches on a variety of topics. One subject of discussion is Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's much-anticipated weekend speech (12 January), in which he addressed many of the issues causing tension between Pakistan and its long-time rival India. Other issues include the electoral contest for German chancellor slated for September, in light of last week's choice of Edmund Stoiber to challenge incumbent Gerhard Schroeder; tomorrow's election for president of the European Parliament; Tajik-Uzbek relations; and Russia's media sector.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
John Burns of "The New York Times" calls Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's 12 January speech "a turning point" in Pakistan's history. He says the general "essentially gave himself the task of redefining Pakistan's sense of itself, after two decades of drift into lawlessness and violence."
By "setting forth a vision of Pakistan as an example of a tolerant and progressive form of Islam, General Musharraf plotted a daring course. What was uncertain was whether his force of will can overcome Pakistan's powerful centers of resistance -- represented in the threat of violence in militant groups, and in the Islamist sympathies in almost every agency of government, including the officer corps."
Burns notes that the president was speaking with the understanding that his fellow officers and the Pakistani public "would be watching for any sign that he was capitulating to the nation's traditional enemy," India. Musharraf also announced new measures to crack down on Islamic militants, knowing that these groups are entrenched and heavily armed.
Burns concludes that the president "struck a balance in his speech, particularly in the remarks addressed to India, between conciliation and brusque warnings of Pakistan's readiness to defend itself." He says the president was also "unusually direct [in] the remarks he addressed to the United States, saying it was America's responsibility to place pressure on India to negotiate a settlement of the dispute over Kashmir."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," journalist Brendan Greeley says the widespread impression of tomorrow's election for the presidency of the European Parliament is that "it is a non-event taking place in a place that hardly exists. [But] reality is otherwise," he says. "The chamber exercises the right of co-decision on 80 percent of EU legislation [and] last year it killed key takeover legislation," he writes.
Greeley continues: "The problem is the European national media: it pays scant attention to the European Parliament, ignoring its strong powers. And where the media is less than eager, the public is less than concerned." Greeley says the parliament is in an "ambiguous" situation of "real power without real public scrutiny."
One of the European Parliament's main problems is low voter turnout, says Greeley. And a "lack of voter interest weakens the legitimacy of the parliament's democratic check" on the other two main European bodies -- the European Council and the European Commission. Opposition to the commission, he says, is avoided whenever possible and is viewed as obstructionist. And parliament charges itself with promoting the union above all, he remarks.
But in its "well-guided focus on preserving the union, [it] fails to get the citizens of Europe angry or excited -- it shelters them from some of the best conflicts of our time," Greeley says.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Columnist Berthold Kohler writes in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on Bavarian premier and Christian Social Union leader Edmund Stoiber. Stoiber was chosen last week to challenge German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in September elections after a hotly contested struggle for the candidacy with Christian Democratic Union head Angela Merkel.
Kohler ponders how big a threat Stoiber is to the incumbent chancellor. "Mr. Schroeder is afraid of Mr. Stoiber because the Bavarian premier has for years pursued a successful economic and social policy that enjoys majority support, and many voters outside Bavaria are convinced that Mr. Stoiber can do it at the national level, too. Chancellor Schroeder knows that Mr. Stoiber's competence and his success in an area that wins and loses elections cannot be argued away."
Kohler says the social forces that brought Stoiber the candidacy "contained a powerful, thoroughly democratic current. Now, Mr. Stoiber has the chance to show that the political center in Germany can be defined differently from the way Mr. Schroeder has done.... [The] German government's guiding principles in many areas, including immigration and family policy, find little favor with the general public," he remarks.
Stoiber's best chance, says Kohler, "lies in focusing on people who do not want to be called undemocratic just because they do not agree with every tenet of the government's doctrine."
In "Eurasia View," Asia-Plus Information Agency Director Umed Babakhanov says relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are experiencing a thaw, thanks in large part to the U.S. antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. Babakhanov says this shift in relations "may boost regional cooperation, which is seen by many local analysts as a key to containing Islamic radicalism in Central Asia."
Babakhanov says Tajik-Uzbek relations may be the most significant for Central Asian security. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two nations have followed different political paths, and often experienced conflict. Tajikistan continued to rely on Russian political and economic support, while Uzbekistan sought to diminish Moscow's role in the region. Tensions escalated as fighters for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan reportedly transited Tajikistan in launching raids against Uzbekistan, and when Tashkent unilaterally decided to mine areas of the Tajik-Uzbek border.
But Babakhanov says the geopolitical upheaval following the 11 September attacks "provided Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with strong incentives to settle their differences. Washington's sudden and intense focus on Central Asian stabilization opened a conduit for rapprochement" between Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Babakhanov says Washington's "continuing high-profile presence in the region should ensure that the renewed spirit of Tajik-Uzbek cooperation endures over at least the medium term. It also means that Tajikistan's political orientation will have to tilt away from Russian and more towards the West," he writes.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that the 11 January closure of Russia's TV-6 -- the country's last private television station -- "ought to worry those who believe that Russia's value as a contributor to international stability, and reliable Western ally, bears some relation to its progress toward becoming a free, democratic state." The editorial notes that this latest closure follows the saga of the independent NTV, which the Kremlin assumed control of last year after security forces stormed its offices.
The editorial says that while the two stations were not models of journalistic ethics, "they nevertheless represented independent voices and competition in the marketplace of ideas." The paper adds that it is "a measure of the cynicism bred by decades of state control under communism that few in Russia find it odd" that the Kremlin took "a backroom role" in their demise.
"In all this, President Vladimir Putin has portrayed himself as a disinterested observer of obscure legal battles between private actors before an independent judiciary. Western leaders ought to know better and say so. Whatever credit we give Mr. Putin for responding -- in his own interests -- cooperatively in the war on terror, the Kremlin has not been a force for judicial independence or media freedom in Russia. Without those two key elements, democracy is a chimera."
An editorial piece in France's daily "Liberation" discusses the weekend transfer of Taliban and Al-Qaeda members captured by the United States in Afghanistan. The prisoners were transferred to an American military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "under Draconian security measures," says the paper. It notes that the U.S. has revealed neither the identities nor the nationalities of the transferred prisoners.
"Liberation" says several voices were raised in Britain against the "processing [of] these prisoners," whose status -- whether prisoners of war or merely "detainees" -- remains "fuzzy." "Liberation" quotes British Labor deputy Donald Anderson as criticizing the conditions of their detention: "Whatever the formal category, these prisoners still have legal rights and what we've heard already suggests that human rights are indeed being put in jeopardy."
Dietrich Alexander, writing in the German paper "Die Welt," commends Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf for what Alexander calls his "courageous" move to ban five Islamic organizations. "The Pakistani military power base is openly doing all it can not to lose the credit gained by its significant participation in the antiterrorist coalition," he writes.
Alexander goes on to say Musharraf's stance deserves a reward, and that Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee cannot expect his neighbor to be any more forthcoming, given Musharraf's tenuous position at home. Alexander says it is now up to the Indian prime minister to respond to Musharraf's gesture.
In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Petr Muench compares Musharraf's political strategy to a tightrope walker. "Pakistani President Musharraf has declared a war [on terrorism] to prevent another war," he says, between India and Pakistan. Muench says this may be regarded as a diplomatic success, which has generated immediate praise from Washington. "He has been clever in putting the ball in India's court, and the world will be an open witness to India's reaction. In this way, the two states may resolve the decades-long conflict over the divided Himalayan region."
On the other hand, Muench says, Musharraf has no other alternative. Considering Pakistan's $38 billion foreign debt and a poverty-stricken population, Pakistan may soon be faced with bankruptcy. Against the backdrop of the American antiterrorist campaign, only a spiritual and political modernization and a break with the religious extremists opens the way to more credit and financial aid, he says. Pakistan cannot afford a war with India, and hence, Musharraf is forced to undertake this balancing act.
Another commentary in "Die Welt," this one by Ulrich Clauss, discusses Germany's participation in the security force in Kabul. The paratroop commander, General Carl Hubertus von Butler, feels it is imperative to assure his men's safety and cautions them to be ever wary and resolute with each step.
The mission is fraught with danger, considering that the situation in Afghanistan "is everything but settled," writes Clauss. The precarious situation is underscored by contradictory government statements regarding the indigenous forces. It is not clear whether they are supposed to join the security forces or play no role at all in Kabul, he says.
Taking this confusing situation into account, Clauss says security for the German contingent is of prime importance, and the Berlin government should adopt immediate measures to make sure the German troops are assured adequate protection in this dangerous mission.
In Britain's "Financial Times," Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution say recent proposals to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal in conjunction with Russia are less significant than they seem. "On the surface, the results are impressive. [The] U.S. proposes to reduce its strategic nuclear arsenal from the 7,200 warheads it currently deploys to between 1,700 and 2,200. [Looked] at more closely, however, the review falls woefully short. It perpetuates rather than breaks with the Cold War logic on nuclear weapons."
The authors say the planned reductions "are readily reversible [and] the aversion to negotiating binding limits is likely to generate distrust and undermine the stability that arms reductions would otherwise engender." In spite of shifting U.S.-Russian relations, they add, U.S. nuclear strategy maintains old assumptions of Russia as America's enemy.
Instead, Daalder and Lindsay say for a true post-Cold War nuclear policy, both the U.S. and Russia should reduce their arsenals to 1,000 weapons or less -- and destroy the rest. "The prospect of tens, let alone hundreds, of nuclear weapons exploding on one's territory is sufficient to deter anyone." In addition, say the authors, these reductions should be codified in a legally binding treaty, which also allows for some sort of verification mechanism.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)