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Western Press Review: Pakistan, Middle East, And U.S/Russia Relationship

Prague, 1 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press editorials, commentary, and news analyses focus on Pakistan, the continuing Mideast conflict, and Russia.


"The New York Times," in an editorial, heavily criticizes Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf for staging what it calls a "rigged referendum" awarding him another five years as president. The newspaper argues that far from strengthening Musharraf's position as the country's ruler, yesterday's referendum may actually weaken him: "The general made a grave mistake in scheduling the referendum in the first place. He compounded the error by banning organized rallies by political parties. The two main political parties are actually supportive of the crackdown on militants and terrorism. Now they have been alienated by General Musharraf's tactics. As the Pakistani commentator Husain Haqqani put it recently, it is time for him to stop trying to be his nation's savior and become its leader. He should be working with the parties instead of trying to freeze them out of power."


Commentator Thomas Friedman, writing from the Jordanian capital Amman for "The New York Times," focuses on the Mideast crisis. But Friedman here, too, draws attention to the widening gap between rulers -- in Arab states -- and those they rule, pointing to the radicalization of society which this could bring in the future.

Friedman writes: "In recent months, the explosion of Arab satellite TV stations and web sites has had a profound impact on Arab public opinion by showing live, nonstop images of the Israeli crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank...Could this roiling Arab street actually topple a regime?" Friedman asks. The answer, he says, is "no." But Friedman says that in order to survive, Arab leaders are having to "slow down whatever modernization, globalization or democratization initiatives they were pursuing or contemplating." The biggest victims of what he calls the "West Bank war" will be Arab liberals "as fledgling democratic experiments are postponed, foreign investment reduced, security services given more leeway to crack down and all public discussion dominated by the Palestinian issue."


Staying in the Middle East, Jonathan Spyer, an adviser to the Israeli government, writes in a commentary in Britain's "Guardian" newspaper that the conflict will not end until Arab states finally accept Israel's right to exist and start admitting some of their own shortcomings. The peace process begun in Olso in 1993, he says, was premised on trust which did not exist -- dooming it to failure. Spyer writes: "Our neighbors see all the justice on their side and all the sin on ours. When we seem weak, we are attacked. Until they change their minds, Israel's existence depends on its strength, and on our neighbors' awareness of this strength. The rapture of illusory rapprochement brought us to the present situation. It is to be hoped that the sombre awakening from illusion which is now taking place contains the potential for a more durable stability after the guns fall silent."


But "The Irish Times," in an editorial, has little sympathy for the Israeli government's refusal to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate the recent events in the Jenin refugee camp -- where Palestinians allege that Israeli forces caused a massacre. The newspaper says the UN investigators must be let in if Israel is to retain any credibility: "Israel is doing itself no good by resisting the United Nations's fact-finding mission to discover what happened during the highly destructive battle of Jenin earlier this month. The mission was agreed unanimously by the Security Council two weeks ago, having been drafted by the United States. Its members must adjudicate between Palestinian allegations that a massacre of civilians took place in the city and Israeli insistence that the deaths happened during fighting between its troops and Palestinian forces."


Moving onto Russia, Leon Fuerth -- a former national security adviser to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore -- writes in "The Washington Post" that "we [the United States] wanted full Russian cooperation in the war against terror and we have received it." But Fuerth asks what -- in the form of U.S. policy concessions -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has received in return, with Washington continuing to push forward its own agenda in both foreign policy and arms control. Fuerth warns the Bush administration that "solid partnerships are not built on winner-take-all rules; they require a search for win-win outcomes. Putin does have critics at home, and they have taken note of the unequal returns to Russia on his investment in the Bush administration. If the administration does not begin to find ways to restore a real sense of give and take, it may lose its chance to build the solid relationship to which it now aspires."