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Western Press Review: Afghan King's Return, Taking Responsibility For Srebrenica, And The Mideast

Prague, 18 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at the arrival of former Afghan King Zahir Shah to Afghanistan after 29 years of exile in Rome; the Dutch report released in early April about responsibility for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, Bosnia; Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the presidential referendum scheduled for April; and events in the Middle East, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrapped up his mission to the region having neither brokered a cease-fire nor brought the two sides back to the negotiating table.


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" welcomes the arrival of former Afghan King Zahir Shah in Kabul today, after 29 years of exile in Rome. But his return, the paper says, presents yet another security problem, as not all Afghan factions are pleased at his return to the country. But Zahir Shah is an ethnic Pashtun, which is significant since he can count on the support of his fellow members of the Pashtun ethnic majority. However, the Tajik and Uzbek minorities are apprehensive, for fear of the former king becoming too powerful.

The commentary says the 87-year-old former king is a much-needed symbolic figurehead, whose arrival should help unite the war-torn country. He will preside over a loya jirga, or national council, scheduled for June, which will choose a transitional government to replace Hamid Karzai's interim administration.

The editorial expresses the hope that the arrival of a man who should be playing a reconciliatory role in Afghanistan will not inadvertently be the source of more strife.


In Britain's "The Guardian," the daily's Madeleine Bunting discusses the report released recently by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation concerning the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. Bunting says the report allocates blame to both the international community and UN authorities within and without the former Yugoslavia, as well as Dutch authorities.

She says the report clarifies "the desperate plight [of] the beleaguered, demoralized Dutch soldiers" who were responsible for guarding the UN safe haven at Srebrenica. Their mission had "ludicrous terms of engagement" operating on "the misplaced belief that the mere presence of a UN force was a sufficient deterrent to the Bosnian Serbs. [It] was an impossible mission, all now agree; many fond illusions [about] a new era of peacekeeping died along with the Bosnian Muslims, and it was largely a matter of chance that it happened on the Dutch watch."

Bunting says the Dutch government may have been naive, however. "They didn't take up the [U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's] CIA's offer of agents to intercept Bosnian Serb communications, and they didn't debrief their Canadian predecessors in Srebrenica, who withdrew arguing that the policy was unsustainable."

Bunting says the Dutch were "swept along by a morally outraged public opinion that Something Must Be Done that allowed no room for a critical examination of what that Something was."


In the British "The Independent," Israeli author Amos Oz says that at this juncture in developments in the Middle East, "every man of peace must draw water [and] pour it on the fire: make his voice heard, object to war crimes by either side, help the victims of these war crimes; demonstrate, persuade, write, debate, garner support for reasonable compromise, oppose the continuation of the Israeli occupation and the Islamic/anti-Semitic campaign for Israel's extermination. The spoon in the ordinary man's hand is truly very small, and the fire large indeed -- but even so he must use it."

Oz suggests a plan for Israel that he says can be implemented without agreement from the Palestinians. First, Israel should end the occupation of Palestinian territories and set up "a closed, fortified line in accordance with demographic reality" that will not include any occupied Palestinian population. Israel would then agree to the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in Palestinian areas, and "morally acknowledge that it played a role in the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy." Oz goes on to say that a comprehensive solution to the conflict must also be sought not only between Israel and the Palestinians but also between Israel and the Arab League. He concludes by saying a unilateral Israeli move to end the occupation must be accompanied by NATO and EU assurances to provide security for Israel in the absence of a real Palestinian-Israeli agreement.


In Britain's "Financial Times," the daily's Charles Clover notes that the Afghan capital, Kabul, is now controlled by Tajik warlords of the Northern Alliance who helped the U.S. depose the Taliban regime. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U.S.-led antiterrorist forces are engaged in an increasingly guerrilla-style war, peacekeepers are targeted by snipers, and rival warlords in the provinces clash daily for control or mete out retribution to ethnic Pashtuns for the five years of the ethnic Pashtun-dominated Taliban regime.

"Western leaders are convinced the answer to civil strife is broad-based, democratic government in Kabul. This, in turn, depends on persuading the Northern Alliance, which seized Kabul in November, to share power. It also means convincing the majority Pashtun tribesmen, who form up to 65 percent of Afghanistan's population but have low representation in the new government, to accept a compromise," Clover says.

Afghanistan's "complicated international situation adds to the problem," he says. Russia and Iran -- which, along with the West, backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban -- still see the alliance as "an important lever of influence in Afghanistan and are loathe to see them lose their power."

All this presents "a daunting challenge" for former king Zahir Shah, says Clover. He concludes that even the king's "courageous commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan may be insufficient to prevent the more tragic periods of Afghan history repeating themselves."


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's latest attempts to bring peace to the Middle East have "achieved little and lost much," says Peter Muench in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." Muench says Powell arrived with a suitcase full of proposals, but somewhere between Jerusalem and Ramallah the purpose of the mission went astray and his journey became "a fruitless errand."

Powell did not manage to achieve either of his two main goals, to broker a cease-fire and/or to secure a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories. In fact, Muench stresses, "absolutely nothing was accomplished." On the contrary, he says, all hopes for peace in the Middle East seem to have been thwarted.

But in spite of the pessimistic outlook for peace, it certainly should not mean an end to all attempts at mediation. Powell declared that he will make a second attempt. Perhaps in the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will have accomplished the aim of his operation to wipe out terrorists in the Palestinian territories. Then maybe he would be ready to negotiate, although Muench says at that point, Sharon's willingness "would be of minimal value."


In France's daily "Liberation," Mideast correspondent Alexandra Schwartzbrod also discusses U.S. Secretary of State Powell's unsuccessful attempts this week to broker a cease-fire and secure an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories. She says that in undiplomatic language, his trip could be called "a failure."

Having arrived in Israel with "very little hope already of calming the situation in the region, the American secretary of state left Tel Aviv yesterday without even being promised the pretense of a cease-fire." While the U.S. president has called repeatedly for a withdrawal, Schwartzbrod says Powell seemed content yesterday to get a simple "timetable of retreat" from the Israeli prime minister.

Powell was, however, very critical of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, saying he was "disappointed" that the Palestinian Authority president should have done more, and that it was time for him to make a "strategic choice."

Powell also vowed that he would return to the region. Schwartzbrod says the diplomatic void left by Powell will be filled next week by CIA Director George Tenet, but she notes Tenet enjoyed only limited success on his last visit to the region in June, as the cease-fire he managed to broker lasted only a few days.


In a piece reprinted today in "The International Herald Tribune," "Los Angeles Times" syndicated columnist William Pfaff discusses the growing divide between the U.S. and Europe, widened by America's war against terrorism. He says America has failed to provide its allies with an explanation of how this war is to be conducted or given any reassurance that the U.S. understands the consequences of what it is doing.

The U.S. administration seemingly believes that unseating Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is the logical next step. Pfaff says that in the U.S. view, other Arab nations will then "turn against Al-Qaeda, and will tell the Palestinians to put away the bombs [and] take whatever settlement Israel offers. A new pro-American government in Iraq will demonstrate the virtues of democracy.... [People] elsewhere in the Arab world will demand democratic, free market, pro-American governments...[then] the misery, injustices and resentment that nourish extremism and terrorism will dry up."

Pfaff calls this view "wishful thinking" and a "fantasy." Europeans believe a war against Iraq will make things worse, but they are now "outsiders making ineffectual suggestions." Pfaff says this disagreement over the Iraq issue "is the most important that has existed between the allies since NATO began. It could destroy NATO," he says. "Worse than that, it could set the former allies against one another."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that in the two and a half years since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seized power in a military coup, "he has frequently pledged to return Pakistan to democratic rule." But it says the presidential referendum he has scheduled for the end of the month is not evidence of democracy.

Musharraf "is campaigning unopposed and plans to extend his presidency for five years after the vote." He has been campaigning around Pakistan and holding rallies "while barring anti-referendum demonstrations. His heavy-handed tactics can only undermine the nation and weaken its ability to fight terrorism," says the paper.

The editorial notes that Musharraf's 1999 coup was "unjustified but nonetheless accepted" by many Pakistanis who were tired of the corruption by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. He has so far won broad support for his antiterrorism campaign both from the West and within Pakistan, "especially among the nation's educated elite -- members of its business and land-owning class, politicians, human rights groups and even many religious leaders." But the paper says Musharraf's "recent blunt tactics to promote the referendum risk alienating the very supporters who have stood by him."

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