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Western Press Review: Afghanistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, And The Enron Scandal

Prague, 15 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press analysis today focuses largely on events in Afghanistan, as commentators continue to ponder what the country's future holds. Several columnists also discuss Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's speech on 12 January, in which he indicated his willingness to crack down on Islamic extremists in an effort to reduce tensions with India.

Finding a compromise between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region is also addressed, as is the bankruptcy of U.S. energy giant Enron. Some observers suspect the allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement at Enron -- as well as quid pro quo donations to top politicians -- may lead all the way to the White House.


An editorial in the British "Financial Times" looks at allegations that Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being treated with excessive severity. The paper says "the aggrieved may feel some satisfaction if prisoners are treated harshly and denied basic rights, but in the longer run it is U.S. interests that will suffer."

The paper adds: "If, as alleged, their beards have been shaved and they have been denied insect repellent [while being held in outdoor cages], that would smack of humiliation, not justice."

But even more serious, says the paper, "is the assertion that the detainees are 'unlawful combatants' and therefore not entitled to the protection afforded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention." The paper says that while many of the prisoners may in fact be "unlawful combatants," the Geneva Convention "stipulates that a detainee should be treated as a prisoner of war until the courts or a competent tribunal determine otherwise."

The editorial concludes that "even in these unique circumstances, the U.S. should not sacrifice the basic rights of defendants for either executive expediency or revenge." It says that doing so "merely reduces [U.S.] moral authority with autocratic regimes elsewhere that flagrantly deny fundamental freedoms."


An editorial in today's "The Washington Post" says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's 12 January speech was a bold step that has diminished the likelihood of war with India, although the situation on the border remains tense. The editorial says Musharraf outlined a progressive and wide-ranging agenda for Pakistan, moving the country away from being a theocratic state to "a progressive and dynamic Islamic welfare state," in which religious diversity is respected, secular education encouraged, and economic development pursued through trade and foreign investment.

The editorial remarks that this shift "would not only reverse Pakistan's drift in recent years toward tolerance of Islamic militancy, but would also provide an alternative vision to that of governments who arrest militants but ignore or even support their ideology."

The paper concludes that the war on terrorism "will never be won unless the political program articulated by Mr. Musharraf is successful in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world. [As] the war shifts and deepens following the first phase of Afghanistan, Mr. Musharraf has taken the lead on what may be its most important front."


In Germany's "Die Welt," Dietrich Alexander questions whether Afghanistan really needs an army, in light of a report that Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai is calling for the creation of a 250,000-strong military force.

Alexander says that for the first time in 23 years, Afghanistan has a chance to start afresh -- to re-establish the socio-political culture, to rebuild its infrastructure -- and it seems that the country has its work cut out for it.

Alexander says it is strange that a country lacking the basics -- such as a constant supply of electricity or water, faced with rebuilding roads and houses, and suffering from the loss of at least two generations -- should consider building an army a priority. It seems, says Alexander, that after experiencing so much suffering, the country "has learned nothing."

It is misguided to think an army could serve as a stabilizing element, he says. Such an army failed in the past when the various warlords battled among themselves after the retreat of Soviet forces.

"Karzai's government is faced with reviving a ruined country," writes Alexander. "An army is the last thing it needs."


In "Eurasia View," journalist Kenan Aliyev looks at recent statements by the U.S. special negotiator for Eurasian conflicts, Rudolf Perina. Perina has indicated that the time may be ripe for Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach a deal on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev says that according to U.S. thinking, "the elimination of long-standing sources of regional instability, such as the Karabakh question, would boost the antiterrorism campaign."

"Karabakh negotiations are currently stalemated, with both Armenia and Azerbaijan doggedly sticking to long-standing negotiating positions. Armenia refuses to accept any arrangement that leaves Karabakh under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. Baku, meanwhile, has offered Karabakh broad autonomy, but insists that the territory remains a constituent part of Azerbaijan."

Aliyev notes that following the U.S. attacks, the international community renewed its commitment to providing funding and assistance to certain strategic nations and regions, among them the Caucasus and Central Asia. He says Perina has indicated that a breakthrough on Karabakh must be achieved soon if Armenia and Azerbaijan hope to receive substantial reconstruction assistance. He quotes Perina as saying that this monetary assistance "is going very, very rapidly to different directions...."

Aliyev concludes that a failure by Armenia and Azerbaijan "to quickly resolve their differences could doom the two countries to a 'frozen conflict,' in which prolonged uncertainty frustrates economic development."


In this month's "Le Monde Diplomatique," Pierre Conesa examines the Al-Qaeda network and the events of 11 September. He says the September attacks were the result of continuing trends that were perceptible even before the tragedy. "[As] with all strategic revolutions, the attacks brought together accelerating trends, causing the first conflict between a state and a sect [Al-Qaeda], and the first war without a front, its aim not territorial conquest but the physical destruction of an adversary. This strategic revolution demands a complete reappraisal of concepts on which Western analysts have based their reasoning," he adds.

Conesa says few Western observers have been watching the growing sectarian movements in the Islamic world. He says the new radical Islamism "has fed on a growing awareness of political and ideological setbacks. The third world no longer counts as a political force, Arab socialism is bankrupt, and political Islamism has reached a dead end." In all of the radical sects, he adds, "religion takes precedence over politics and renders them pointless...."

Conesa says many extremists "lived through the failure of Islamist parties in various countries and [thus] backed the fight against the new enemy, the West. The number of Saudis among the perpetrators of 11 September -- between a half and two-thirds -- highlights the political and moral crisis in their country," he concludes.


In "The New York Times," Afghan affairs analyst Barnett Rubin says the policies of the international community may be undermining stability in Afghanistan. He notes that the purpose of the Bonn accords was to establish a stable interim government, which he says also means "ending direct supplies of money and arms to warlords. Yet the United States has been supporting various anti-Taliban commanders who are helping in the search for Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden," he writes.

"In the battle for Kandahar, the United States came close to undermining Hamid Karzai, now head of the interim Kabul administration, by arming his local rivals. The immediate operational requirements of the battle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have thus worked against the goal of consolidating the interim administration's authority," says Rubin.

Rubin says Karzai's interim Afghan administration "will not be able to establish that authority unless financial and military aid to warlords ceases in favor of an effort to build national security forces." He suggests that the international security force for Afghanistan may need to extend its presence beyond Kabul, to provide necessary security during the transition from warlord control to central control under the interim government.


In the "Los Angeles Times," staff writer David Lamb writes from Islamabad on the Pakistani president's 12 January speech. "President Pervez Musharraf has, in effect, launched a jihad against Islamic extremism and the seeds of terror and violence it sows. If fully implemented and successfully executed, the campaign could change the character of this impoverished and often unstable country."

Lamb notes that in delivering his speech, Musharraf wore civilian clothes and quoted the Koran to justify his actions. "Seldom has the leader of any Islamic nation used such blunt language to attack religious extremists or publicly announced such bold initiatives to usurp the zealots' influence," Lamb writes. "At stake, many analysts say, is the destiny of Pakistan."

Lamb says that regarding tensions with India, Musharraf "conveyed both firmness and flexibility by directly challenging Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to begin talks aimed at a peaceful solution."

Lamb adds that if Musharraf makes good on his weekend promises to stop terrorism, he will already have met most of India's demands.


A editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" calls on the U.S. and the international community to do more to help stabilize Afghanistan. "Now that the fighting has stopped," it says, "the silence is troubling."

"One basic problem is that with the Taliban gone, there is no one to provide basic security. [There] are no visible signs of police or other governmental authority...." The editorial notes that Hamid Karzai, the new interim prime minister, has said Afghanistan would welcome a multinational police force. The paper says it acknowledges the U.S. "doesn't want to be a long-term peacekeeper, but some American participation now would induce other countries to commit more of their own until local police can be reassembled," it says.

"It's not hard to think of a few quick relief fixes the U.S. could assist with. One would be an infusion of cash, desks, and even office staples for the Karzai government. Rebuilding the country's ring road is also a must if this trading country is ever to get back on its feet," it says. "Such a project could provide employment for many thousands of people, and with it the peace-inducing dignity of feeding their families."


In "The New York Times," Bob Herbert looks at the failure of U.S. energy company Enron, the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history. Investigations into the company's dealings are looking into allegations that top executives cashed out millions of dollars of Enron stock while purposefully misrepresenting the company's prospects to shareholders and employees. Thus, top executives made huge profits knowing the company was in trouble, while Enron shareholders lost everything.

Herbert quotes a 14 August 2001 e-mail written by Enron chairman Kenneth Lay to employees as saying, "[I] have never felt better about the prospects for the company." Herbert notes that by then, Lay and Enron chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling has already cashed out $160 million of Enron stock. Enron executives "made out like bandits," Herbert writes.

Lay is also a close personal friend of U.S. President George W. Bush, and a major Bush campaign contributor. Herbert says Enron got "just about everything it wanted from the federal government. It walked right into the heart of the Bush administration and helped shape its national energy policy, even as consumer representatives and environmental advocates were largely frozen out."

And Herbert says "by systematically flooding public officials -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- with enormous quantities of campaign cash and lots of other booty, it got the people who should have been looking out for the public's interest to look the other way."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press survey)