Prague, 7 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today discusses NATO reforms, the recent Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, the announcement of a new U.S. "homeland security" organization, the Mideast conflict, rebuilding Afghanistan, the Turkmenistan-Pakistan pipeline proposal, and simmering tensions over Kashmir.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
An editorial in "The Washington Times" says the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels yesterday went a ways toward redefining the alliance's mission in the post-Cold War world. The allies agreed to reform command-and-control structures, with a September deadline for a full review of existing structures. The U.S., Britain, and Spain proposed that new NATO units be created for deployment to trouble spots around the world, with some suggesting deployment outside the NATO area should be an option.
The proposed new military units are part of an attempt to equip NATO to deal with terrorist threats and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "The Washington Times" says, "These proposals [show] that the United States and Europe aren't ready to give up on working together, and they are a good first step in ensuring that NATO is prepared to handle new threats."
These proposals could help improve trans-Atlantic relations on several fronts, the editorial says. The new military units will provide an opportunity for NATO to act "as a whole," it says, while addressing U.S. concerns over Europe's military capability. The new units will force the allies to increasingly match capabilities. In addition, says the paper, the proposals free the alliance from its "Cold War mentality" and make it more capable of dealing with today's new threats on new targets, from nonstate actors beyond America and Europe. This proposal "could greatly increase NATO's chances of survival," it concludes.
In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Kazakhstan-based journalist Aibat Zharikbaev discusses this week's Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held in Almaty, the former Kazakh capital. Zharikbaev says the purpose of the conference was to forge increased cooperation between member states on antiterrorism efforts, but that this effort was "overshadowed by a failed attempt by Russia and the host country, Kazakhstan, to defuse tension between India and Pakistan."
The Indian-Pakistani crisis dominated the gathering, says Zharikbaev, and "exposed the limitations of the CICA to serve as a forum to promote regional security. The conference is designed for dialogue, and lacks mechanisms to implement and enforce decisions taken by member states." Even finding a "point of departure" for Indian-Pakistani talks proved difficult, he says.
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf pledged his willingness to meet with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in whatever setting the Indian leader chose, but India made clear that progress in their shared border region had to precede any substantive dialogue.
Zharikbayev also notes that while all the participating member states supported the idea of fighting terrorism, the definition of what constitutes terrorism varies greatly from country to country. Thus, he says "antiterrorism initiatives, including an antiterrorism declaration adopted by CICA states, stand little chance of improving the security climate unless participating states find a common definition of terrorism."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorialin "The New York Times" discusses the announcement yesterday that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush will create a new organization to deal with the threat of terrorism. "After months of trying on the fly to mobilize numerous federal agencies in a unified front against terrorist threats at home, President Bush belatedly but wisely told the nation last night that an ambitious reorganization of the government was needed to get the job done. His proposal to draw together more than a dozen federal agencies in a new Department of Homeland Security makes sense."
The Bush administration proposal would consolidate "a variety of disparate agencies -- including the Customs Service, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Coast Guard -- into a new department with its own budget and administrator. That, in principle, is a good idea," says the paper.
But the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, the two organizations now most responsible for countering terrorism, would remain separate. In light of recent allegations that interorganizational squabbles over jurisdiction, bitter internal rivalries, and a lack of communication may have hindered intelligence gathering before the 11 September attacks, "The New York Times" says the White House and the new homeland security organization must "ensure that information about potential threats is shared by all the agencies responsible for countering them."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the latest turn of events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two days ago (5 June), a Palestinian suicide car-bomb attack resulted in the deaths of 17 Israelis, including 13 soldiers, and many others were injured.
Yesterday, Israel responded by storming Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah, blowing up buildings within the compound and shelling Arafat's living quarters.
The paper says the effect of this repeated cycle of action and retaliation is that it desensitizes and often achieves the opposite of what either side wishes. Neither Israel nor the U.S. is clear on the question of a successor to Arafat, the paper says. The editorial concludes that, after the last year and a half of ongoing attacks on either side, if the issue of an Arafat successor is actually being considered, any new leader "would likely lead to a more radical approach and greater Palestinian demands, rather than the opposite."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In today's "International Herald Tribune," columnist Philip Bowring says this week's visit to Russia by China's President Jiang Zemin -- following closely that of U.S. President George W. Bush and immediately after the Almaty summit on Asian security cooperation -- "has illustrated the extent to which Russia, the West, and China are now tied together by fear of Muslim militancy."
The shared concern over militants has already paid some short-term dividends, he says. For the West, it has facilitated Russia's "grudging acceptance" of eastward expansion by NATO and the EU, and the acceptance by Moscow and Beijing of a U.S. military presence in Central Asia. For Russia, it has ensured "Western tolerance of oppressions in Chechnya"; for the Central Asians, tolerance of despotic regimes; and for Beijing, a decrease in America's anti-China sentiment.
But for Russia, says Bowring, "more constructive" benefits must emerge in order to avoid a domestic backlash "against President Vladimir Putin's accommodations with the West." Russia has received little to compensate for the clout it has given up in Central Asia, the Baltics, and elsewhere. Putin seems to recognize that his political future will rely on Russia's continued economic recovery, Bowring says, but the economic pace is slowing. Investment and trade are the keys to Russia's continuing recovery, he says. Bowring advises, "[More] focus on economic issues and less on Islamic and strategic questions are the best investment the West could make in the future of Russia, and indeed of Europe itself."
In Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Jonathan Steele criticizes the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush for its insistence that it reserves the right to take preemptive measures against any nation "which it decides is developing weapons of mass destruction or supporting terrorism." Steele notes that this doctrine could undermine "the fragile structure of international peace. [Any] state could attack any other under the pretext that it detected a threat, however distant." He says it is tantamount to claiming "carte blanche for a war on the world."
Along with preemption, Steele says retaliation "is also forbidden by international law. States can reply to hostile actions by other states but they may not take reprisals" unless it is clear the hostile actions will continue. "A one-off attack is not sufficient justification," he adds. But, he writes, "states have often tried to mingle retaliation and preemption and cover their real motives with the justification of self-defense."
"Many nations have exploited the 'war on terrorism,' either to gain favor with Washington or clamp down on dissent." But Bush is now "hijacking the antiterrorist agenda and crashing it into the most sacred skyscraper in New York: the headquarters of the UN. If his doctrine is not rapidly rejected by other states," Steel says, Article 51 of the UN charter -- which provides for the right to a nation's self-defense -- "will have suffered a mortal blow."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that the U.S. administration's envoys on the subcontinent seeking to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan appear to be focused on two immediate objectives: "inducing Pakistan to take visible action to stop the infiltration of Islamic militants from its territory to Indian-controlled Kashmir, and persuading the Indian government then to forego the military assault that it is contemplating and reduce its massive mobilization along the border."
But the world's diplomats cannot overlook the fact that underlying India's immediate concern over terrorist attacks sponsored by Pakistan lurks a deeper problem, concerning the governance of Kashmir, which "has been obscured and distorted by the vocabulary of 11 September."
The paper says the Bush administration's definition of terrorism following the September attacks "as a global evil" seems to have encouraged Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee "to aspire to a goal that would have been out of reach before 11 September: forcing an end to Pakistan's support for the Kashmiri resistance without addressing the underlying political issues." Vajpayee's previous attempts at a cease-fire and negotiations with Kashmiri separatists did not go well, the paper notes. But it says nevertheless, the United States "must work to bring Vajpayee back to the strategy of negotiating with Kashmiris about peaceful and democratic solutions."
In France's daily "Liberation," Christophe Ayad and Claude Guibal discuss what they call Washington's efforts in vain to bring peace to the Middle East. Having initially sought to avoid involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bush administration was eventually drawn in over the possibility of the conflict spreading to engulf the region.
Throughout May, Washington continued to work relentlessly for a solution. The undersecretary of state in charge of the Near East, Richard Burns, stopped this week (4 June) in Beirut, "within the framework of a regional tour designed to bring Arab countries together in support of the idea of an international peace conference." Along with a political reform of the Palestinian Authority and the overhaul of its security services, Ayad and Guibal say this conference has become one of the "three pillars" of Washington's policy, for lack of alternatives.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already made it clear that neither Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat nor Syrian envoys are welcome at the conference, they say. And Egypt and Saudi Arabia are touting their own peace plans. At the moment, the conference has neither a set date, nor place, nor agenda, nor even a participants list. The authors urge the United States to continue its engagement, and suggest that the international community must put forth peace initiatives that are designed to do more than enhance the diplomatic status of the proposers.
This week's edition of "The Economist" magazine says that Afghanistan's much-anticipated Loya Jirga grand council, convening on 10 June to construct a two-year Afghan government, will merely mark the beginning of "a long period of political and economic reconstruction."
The magazine says the first hurdle "is the need to rebalance the ethnic composition of the government." The interim administration decided in Bonn, led by Hamid Karzai, only "reflected the military balance of power after the Taliban's demise." Although Karzai himself is a member of the Pashtun majority, several key positions were handed over to members of the Tajik minority, who comprised the leadership of the Northern Alliance fighters that defeated the Taliban. The magazine suggests that bringing in former King Zahir Shah could, "given his general popularity, help to foster some sense of unity."
The second hurdle is to establish order, "The Economist" says. But in spite of repeated appeals from the interim administration, member nations of the International Security Assistance Force have refused to extend its mandate outside of Kabul. Instead, they are relying on the eventual creation of an Afghan national army and police force to keep the peace.
"The Economist" goes on to say the new Afghan government also needs aid, as "there can be no lasting security without some hope of prosperity." Foreign aid is sorely needed "to rebuild infrastructure, [lure] private investment, and generate jobs for the millions of unemployed."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation discusses the agreement signed by Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and Turkmen President Sapamurat Niyazov in Islamabad on 30 May on the creation of an energy pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. Socor acknowledges that the most problematic section will be that which runs through Afghanistan, crossing areas that are still "controlled by various factions and warlords." But Afghanistan will receive "hundreds of millions of dollars annually in transit fees," he says. It would also provide the country with an inexpensive energy source and create thousands of jobs.
For Pakistan, Socor says, "the pipeline would alleviate that country's chronic energy shortages, with their disruptive economic and political effects. It could also give Pakistan and India a common stake in constructive regional cooperation...." As for the pipeline's source, Turkmenistan, with its "immense gas export potential," the pipeline could provide its first reliable access to world markets.
But as Socor writes, "Persistent insecurity in parts of Afghanistan, a precarious internal situation in Pakistan, and India-Pakistan nuclear saber-rattling" are obstacles to progress on this project. Yet, he says the pipeline project itself "may serve as an incentive for regional and local actors to behave responsibly in anticipation of the multiple benefits to be shared by all."
In "Eurasia View," contributing journalist Halima Kazem also looks at the trans-Afghan pipeline project, and says its prospects currently are looking dim. Western energy companies have ample opportunities to invest elsewhere, she notes. "Competition for foreign investment is tight even with countries with stable central governments," much less struggling -- or nonexistent -- ones, such as in Afghanistan. Moreover, she says, the demand for energy from the trans-Afghan pipeline would probably only come from India, which she calls "a tough market to gauge." India is also concerned about the security of energy supplies that cross its traditional rival, Pakistan. Pakistan has enough developed internal gas reserves to last another two decades, she notes, and thus has little incentive to ensure delivery through its portion to India. Underlying power struggles between Pakistan and Afghanistan are also "still a major barrier for a pipeline partnership," she says.
Kazem remarks that even if political situations in the region could be worked out, many analysts say the pipeline's rate of return for its investors would not be particularly high, given the gamble they would be taking. She says that for now, oil analysts "uniformly deem a trans-Afghanistan pipeline largely out of reach."
(Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)