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Western Press Review: Seville Summit, Afghanistan

Prague, 24 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the British press reacts critically today to results of the search for a pan-European immigration policy at last week's European Union summit in Seville, Spain.


"The Daily Telegraph" editorializes that a summit was the wrong approach from the start. "Far from proving the case for tackling asylum at EU level, Seville highlighted once again the limitations of this approach. The summit may have resulted in warm words and measures that sound good on paper, but in truth, [Prime Minister Tony] Blair must know that meaningful results will takes years to appear."


Writing in Britain's "Financial Times," commentator Quentin Peel presents an opposite view, that what is needed is a more coordinated approach across Europe to immigration and asylum. "Part of the complication lies in the sensitivity of the issues at stake, involving national security. No member state wants to abandon its sovereignty in such areas. The result has been a complete hodgepodge of legal instruments, procedures, and practices which make oversight extraordinarily difficult.

"The answer is to bring all such legislation into a common framework, simplify procedures and give both the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice a chance to blow the whistle on silly and illiberal ideas. This is a perfect task for the EU constitutional convention to decide. Powers of oversight could be shared between EU and national courts and parliaments, if the procedures are reasonably simple and transparent. At the moment we have the worst of all worlds where the procedures are muddled and complex, and few people have the slightest idea what is being decided until it is too late."


Chief executive Keith Best of the Immigration Advisory Service, a British NGO that works with immigrants and asylum seekers, writes in a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" that the best result of the summit was its tilt toward a common EU solution to the issue.

Best comments: "European governments are making a mess of migration policy. Popular and media hysteria have turned the term 'economic migrant' into one of abuse, which must be incomprehensible to anyone from the U.S. As a European, I recommend that my compatriots visit the exhibition on Ellis Island celebrating 'economic migration' to the U.S. It brought that country its greatness."

Best continues: "One good thing that did happen at the summit is that Europe came closer to a common European Union solution to the issue of migration. There are already valid initiatives from the European Commission, such as a proposed council directive on minimum standards for those who seek to qualify as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection. There is a fundamental barrier to a common solution, however, namely the different interpretations of the UN refugee convention by the member states. Principal among these is whether persecution by nonstate agents -- which include the mafia -- can bring an asylum seeker within the convention's definition of refugee. Britain accepts that it does, Germany does not. A common definition has to be a starting point."


The "Financial Times" editorially assesses the summit as a modest success. "The summit gave impetus to the search for a common asylum and immigration policy. The setting of timetables should help to concentrate minds, though for three years good intentions have been thwarted by sensitivities about national sovereignty when it comes to detailed negotiations. Furthermore, the leaders are putting most of their efforts into putting up walls against asylum seekers, rather than trying to persuade their publics of the need for a more rational strategy of managed migration."


Britain's "The Independent" describes Tony Blair's performance at the summit as a failed effort at self-aggrandizement. "He led off with a little spiel about how the likely enlargement of the European Union in two years' time would transform everything and how he would be there, in the thick of it, leading, shaping, and generally being looked up to."

The editorial adds, "By Thursday, however, he already was in scuttering retreat from what [Secretary of State for International Development] Clare Short rightly called the 'morally repugnant' plan to tie aid for poor countries to their willingness to take back those refused refugee status in the EU."


In the German daily "Handelsblatt," commentator Jochen Hoenig says that EU expansion will exacerbate the challenges of immigration policy reform. "The actual demands of the EU expansion policy do not lie within the borders, but the outer frontiers. With the admittance of new states, the EU will stretch in 2004 to the borders with Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are aware of the enormous responsibility, but do not have at their disposal either the means or the know-how to secure their borders against the wave of immigration from Central Asia and Russia."

Commentaries in "The New York Times" and in "The Guardian" say that last week's grand council -- or Loya Jirga -- in Afghanistan left that country in an ambiguous position.


"The New York Times" editorializes: "Afghans expected that the recently conducted Loya Jirga [would] lead to a fairer sharing of power among the country's ethnic and political factions. Instead, President Hamid Karzai presented delegates with the results of a backroom deal that confirmed the tight grip of Tajik leaders based in one small area, the Panjshir Valley, over the most important posts."

The editorial continues: "The Loya Jirga, chosen by local councils across the country, was a chance to remedy that, and to strengthen the position of other under-represented groups, like Uzbeks and Hazaras. Instead, the hard realities of military power prevailed. With outside countries unwilling to expand the international security force beyond Kabul and with American and British combat troops in Afghanistan mainly concerned with hunting remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Mr. Karzai's authority still depends on the military muscle of Northern Alliance leaders. The Loya Jirga was a lost opportunity for Mr. Karzai."


"The Guardian" commentator Jonathan Steele writes, "As the Loya Jirga ended, it was hard to be optimistic."

He continues: "Around half the delegates were chosen in elections which were reasonably free. When it came time to sharing jobs in President Hamid Karzai's new government, a balance was struck between the country's main ethnic groups, the Tajiks and the Pashtun. But on the major issue of whether Afghanistan will be run by educated people with a vision of democratic development, the Loya Jirga was a disaster. The struggle between the modernizers and the mujahedin leaders was won decisively by the latter."

The commentary concludes: "Signs of regression are already emerging. Many delegates were concerned that when they left the spotlight of publicity and returned to the provinces they could be targeted. The fundamentalists are reasserting their authoritarian rule. In spite of its loud promises, the West has begun to walk away."


Military analyst William M. Arkin analyzes current U.S. saber-rattling toward Iraq. Writing in the "Los Angeles Times," he comments disapprovingly -- not on U.S. threats to attack Iraq, but on insufficient planning for the attack when it comes. "It is now crystal clear that the [U.S. administration of President George W. Bush] intends to go to war with Iraq. The armed forces have gone so far as to create a top-secret code name for the planning. They call it 'Polo Step,' and access is highly restricted and compartmentalized."

The writer adds, "Unfortunately, the determination to fight has not been matched by a clear, creative, carefully thought-out approach to developing strategy and tactics -- an approach that would take into account the full capabilities of the armed forces today and the real lessons of Operation Desert Storm."

Arkin concludes: "Putting U.S. forces inside Iraq will convey the deadly serious message that the United States is not going to walk away this time. It will say the United States is not hoping to match Hussein tank for tank. And it is not going to keep on trying to hit Hussein through the Iraqi civilian population -- the one form of warfare he can probably survive indefinitely. Most important, the best plan for the United States is to say exactly what it is going to do right up to the end, so that the Iraqi people and the rest of the world understand."

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