Prague, 25 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media over the weekend and today looks at the reopening of Afghanistan's schools; the travails facing Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf; the prospects for a Middle East peace; law enforcement in Kosovo; and maintaining Macedonian stability.
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
A "Los Angeles Times" editorial takes the opportunity provided by the 23 March reopening of schools in Afghanistan to urge readers to consider how much people in many nations take for granted. The paper says that while schools in other nations are not perfect, "think for a moment about Afghanistan's schools, where they're so tickled that the artillery shell holes are patched and there's actually glass in the windows."
The editorial says that "life won't change in one semester." War in Afghanistan "has been an enduring business and way of death. And appalling American ignorance and indifference helped create the Afghan anarchy so fertile for Al-Qaeda. True, some schools have 1,000 pupils for 10 classrooms, requiring shifts. Rooms are unheated," and only some have desks, the paper writes. But it says, "Thanks to an amazingly swift effort" on the part of the United Nations Children's Fund, numerous nations, and donations, "maybe a third of Afghanistan's youths -- by a rough war-time estimate -- started down the long road to literacy this weekend."
The paper concludes, "One more nation's new generation of boys and girls openly growing and learning together is one less home for hate and intolerance."
JANE'S INTELLIGENCE REVIEW:
An analysis in "Jane's Intelligence Review" by John Hill looks at maintaining peace in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Hill says Macedonia "took a significant step forward with the March 7 passing of a new law offering general amnesty to Macedonian citizens who fought in the uprising of ethnic Albanians last year."
The amnesty is a key element of the Ohrid peace accord that ended the fighting and which was signed in August. But Hill says: "Whether the deal will be enough to placate deeply divided elements within Macedonia remains to be seen."
Hill suggests that even more importantly, the amnesty "paves the way for the release of international funds needed to assist with Macedonia's reconstruction." The former Yugoslav republic received pledges of $515 million at a donors conference held on 12 March in Brussels. But Hill also notes that the Brussels-based International Crisis Group and others have warned that the endemic, widespread corruption in Macedonia may undermine the aid program and other reconstruction efforts.
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
In "The Boston Globe," columnist H.D.S. Greenway says the Palestinians need a viable Middle East peace proposal that includes ending the Israeli occupation. He says the Palestinians' "young militia leaders are in no mood to listen to [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat or anyone else about the benefits of cease-fires that only perpetuate the political status quo."
Greenway says the current Palestinian intifada "was most likely started by younger leaders who were disillusioned both with Arafat's mismanagement and the Oslo peace process itself, which had not led to any betterment of the Palestinian people or halted Israeli settlements. Now it will take more than Arafat's command. It will take some political move toward ending the occupation to get the Palestinians to move toward peace."
He says, "Without the vision of a viable Palestinian state and an end to the military occupation that has lost any shred of legitimacy, peace cannot be achieved. If Arafat's sin after Oslo was not to crack down sufficiently on violence and provide civil society, the sin of Israel and the United States was not to perceive that Palestinians on the ground had to be swiftly shown some advantage in the path of peace."
Ending the occupation, says Greenway, "is the best way -- perhaps the only way -- Israel can be secure within internationally recognized frontiers. And only United States intervention can make that possible."
An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also discusses the prospects for a Middle East peace, in light of the Arab League summit in Beirut scheduled for 27-28 March. The prospects are far from bright, says the paper. It remarks that events are going on as they have for some time: The Palestinians murder someone and the Israelis retaliate by shooting Palestinians.
This is continuing, the newspaper says, at a time when all eyes, from Washington to Brussels, expect the summit to be a turning point in this endless conflict. It is hoped that the recent Saudi Arabian proposal offering Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab lands it captured in the 1967 war will meet with widespread approval.
However, the commentary says, since the plan was originally proposed, much has fallen by the wayside. There is no longer talk of an exchange of diplomats, trade agreements, or tourism. There is no longer talk of "normalization," as it seems "the Arab world is backtracking to the lowest common denominator," the commentary says.
The German daily concludes that now it is up to the Israelis to show some goodwill by permitting Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to attend the summit.
JANE'S INTELLIGENCE REVIEW:
A second analysis in "Jane's Intelligence Review" looks at law enforcement in Kosovo and says, "Transnational crime in Kosovo poses formidable policing challenges that the UNMIK [United Nations Mission in Kosovo] policing structure is poorly equipped to counter." It notes that Albanian organized crime "follows the clan structure of northern Albanian and Kosovar society," operating under a strict code of loyalty and honor, often under penalty of death. "Jane's" says that adding to this "is a traditional reluctance to recognize state authority in any form."
"Jane's" adds: "Against this background, UNMIK faces crippling legal constraints. UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the international community's mandate in the province, recognizes Kosovo as an autonomous province of Yugoslavia, ruled by Yugoslav law. Given that there is no longer a Yugoslav administration or court system in the province, the result is a legal vacuum."
However, reform may be forthcoming, as many of these shortcomings will be addressed by a new UN legal code -- although when the new code will be implemented is unclear. "Jane's" notes that two new organizations are being created to address transnational crime in the region, the Criminal Intelligence Unit, working closely with the British Ministry of Defense, and the U.S.-led and funded Kosovo Organized Crime Bureau, which will operate on a civilian police model.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at the regime of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges the U.S. administration to "keep pressure on the general to return democracy to Pakistan." It says Musharraf's plan "to try to legitimize his military rule with a referendum this year is unacceptable and should be discouraged by Washington. He needs to hold free and fair elections."
Since Pakistan gained independence in 1947, "its political system has never been allowed to mature. Instead, it has been corrupted by organized criminal groups, extremist Islamic organizations financed from overseas and a powerful but covert military organization known as the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI. In the 1980s, the United States did business with all these groups," the paper notes. The U.S. thus helped create some of the nation's current problems.
But the editorial says that Musharraf "must accelerate his efforts to purge the ISI of links with militant groups operating in Afghanistan, Kashmir and within Pakistan. [He] has no choice but to change the direction of his troubled nation and its military establishment. Dissident elements of the ISI have to be rooted out, and the agency has to end its support of Islamic insurgents in Kashmir," the paper says. The U.S. should provide material support, such as computers, to help counter extremists. Aiding Pakistan is the best way to bring stability to the nation and the region, it says.
An analysis by Gilles Paris in French daily "Le Monde" looks at recent attempts to conclude a cease-fire in the Middle East. He says after a fruitless meeting on 22 March between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, another meeting was held on 24 March to try to reach an agreement. Paris notes the second meeting opened shortly after a new suicide attack took place in a busy area near the Green Line, which theoretically separates Israel from the West Bank. He says the failure of the meetings highlights that the differences between the parties remain key. The Palestinians are calling for the speedy implementation of the measures contained in the 2001 report by CIA Director George Tenet, while the Israelis focus their demands on security questions.
The editorial says at the Arab League summit, opening on 27 March, the Saudi peace proposal -- which offers Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for an Israeli retreat to its pre-1967 borders -- may be adopted as the common position of a majority of its member countries. But "Le Monde" adds that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may not be able to attend without a cease-fire agreement being concluded, as Israel has kept him confined to Ramallah since 3 December.
In Britain's daily "The Independent," Fergal Keane of the BBC says that the war in Afghanistan may end up being a long and bloody conflict. Keane acknowledges that some observers have warned of Afghanistan becoming another Vietnam, a guerrilla war in which fewer fighters with inferior equipment were able to eventually rout U.S. forces. He says that while Afghanistan is not yet akin to Vietnam, "there are similarities that any political and military leader would do well to consider." Keane also notes the warnings from others of the "endless Soviet attempts" to gain victory in Afghanistan.
He remarks that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters do "have many advantages. They know the terrain and they have numerous escape routes along the porous border with Pakistan. They have a vast constituency of support in the tribal areas on the border and the renegades within Pakistan intelligence provide them with information and material. They also have a great deal of time. [An] ambush here and there, and they can tie down huge numbers of troops." Keane says it is time U.S. and British leadership "looked at the objective factors operating against them in Afghanistan and then spelled these out to the public. There is the potential for a long and bloody conflict, and if our leaders know this, they must pass on the news."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)