Prague, 16 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the major Western dailies today discusses Pakistan's changeable political environment, holding onto press freedoms in Poland, Jordan's dilemma in the event of a U.S.-Iraqi conflict, the effect of Turkey's political crisis on regional stability, and German campaigning in the wake of imminent CAP reform.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today discusses the political situation in Pakistan following yesterday's sentencing of the four men accused of murdering the "Journal's" reporter, Daniel Pearl. The paper calls the trial an "act of courage" for the prosecutors and witnesses, who participated at great personal risk.
The "Journal" says this situation underscores the tenuous quality of Pakistani politics. President Pervez Musharraf has enjoyed "tacit" public approval, despite the fact that Pakistanis "were never enthusiastic" about his ascent to power in a 1999 military coup. But the paper says public opinion shifted against him "after he organized a referendum in April to gain another five years as president. Now he has proposed constitutional changes that will give him arguably a greater role than the voters in picking the prime minister."
The "Journal" says Musharraf's "attempts to solidify his long-term role behind the cloak of a phony democracy" could do a lot of political damage. The proposed constitutional changes could set up "an unhealthy political dynamic" from which Islamic fundamentalists might gain popularity "by harnessing the frustration within a society that is denied a democratic outlet."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," Maciej Lukasiewicz of Poland's "Rzeczpospolita" newspaper says when Poland's decades of communist rule ended in 1989, it seemed unlikely that communists would ever again play a significant role in the country's politics. But today Poland is being led by the reformed communists of President Aleksandr Kwasniewski's Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Under Kwasniewski's leadership, Poland has joined NATO and is working toward EU membership.
But Lukasiewicz says the president must now deal with members of his party who "are revealing tendencies dangerous to democracy." SLD members "are more and more openly seeking to reimpose control on areas of the society liberated by democratic reforms."
Lukasiewicz says the "most worrisome sign" of this is a struggle between the government and independent media. Independence of the press "is still barely accepted by former communists, for many of whom the old centralizing influences have not died out," he says. But Kwasniewski has already made clear he will veto a controversial communications bill that would strengthen the role of state television and "effectively block development of private media."
Lukasiewicz says, "By taking a clear stand on the independence of the media, Kwasniewski has not only stood against his former comrades, he has also made a crucial choice."
The current edition of the British-based weekly "The Economist" discusses Jordan's plight regarding the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Iraq. The magazine says Jordan is facing the question: "What do you do when your two [biggest] benefactors are Iraq and the United States?" Jordanians feel squeezed into a "dangerously uncomfortable" position, says the magazine.
Officially, Jordan advocates nonalignment. But this "studied neutrality is getting hard to preserve," and Jordan stands to lose much in a war between the United States and Iraq. For half a century, Iraq was Jordan's traditional trade partner. Today, it still relies on Iraq for all its oil supplies, half of which are received free, "the rest at a discount paid in vegetables and other commodities."
Jordan's relations with the United States are similarly preferential. The U.S. administration is seeking to provide Jordan with $300 million in military and economic aid. "The Economist" says Jordanians must now worry what the U.S. may soon be demanding of them. Jordan has resisted American requests to host prepositioned weapons on its territory, but "the pressure is now much more intense" amid reports the U.S. seeks to base military aircraft in eight regional states ahead of a possible Iraq offensive. The magazine concludes that Jordan's choices are even starker today than they were during the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War with Iraq.
In "Eurasia View," Istanbul-based journalist Jon Gorvett says that as NATO's only Muslim member, Turkey "plays a focal role in NATO strategy from the Middle East to Central Asia." Officials are becoming concerned over how Turkey's domestic political crisis will affect its military and diplomatic policies.
Observers are particularly worried about the departure of Foreign Minister Ismail Cem from the ruling Democratic Left Party, announced on 11 July. Without Cem's leadership, Gorvett says Turkey's bid to join the EU may be in jeopardy. Turkey must still make a number of domestic reforms -- such as abolishing the death penalty and establishing rights for its Kurdish minority -- in order to gain membership. But now, says Gorvett, Cem's internationalist agenda has been yielded to ministers "much less sympathetic to EU-imposed reform." The government now "seems more likely to reject the EU's demands."
Gorvett goes on to say a U.S.-led attack on Iraq would be "deeply unpopular" with most Turks, including political leaders. "[With] the government in chaos, it is hard to know how Turkish politicians will deal with aggressive American or British agendas." Gorvett says whatever political party emerges triumphant from the current chaos could "remake Turkey's foreign policy, with major implications for the region and the country's role in it."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Carola Schlagheck says Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's statement this week that Germany will not fund an open-ended extension of EU farm subsidies to Eastern European nations seeking EU membership has "put his election challenger, Edmund Stoiber, on the defensive."
The chancellor "has made policy clashes with Brussels a recurring theme of his campaign" for re-election, says Schlagheck. He has also threatened to stall a reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) "unless Germany's contribution to Eastern farm subsidies is settled first."
With national elections set for 22 September, Schroeder "stands to benefit by appearing to fight for Germany's interests as the EU's principal paymaster." This forces Stoiber, the joint candidate of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, "to make some difficult policy choices in response." Stoiber has thus far avoided making any commitments on the subsidy issue.
Schlagheck says France, as the largest recipient of CAP subsidies, would object to any decrease in the CAP. "The seeds of a clash between France and Germany over farm subsidies have been sown," she says. Stoiber, the Bavarian premier, has warned that Schroeder was "courting a confrontation with European neighbors and that this was bad for Germany." But Schlagheck says ultimately, Stoiber "would also like to cap Germany's EU contribution."
In Belgium's "Le Soir," Eric Biegala says that after the "hemorrhaging" of Turkey's government last week, the parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP) has been reduced to a dozen representatives, far behind the far-right Nationalist Action Party.
The resignation of Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who Biegala describes as a young, "spirited," and popular diplomat, was a particularly striking blow to the government. Among his accomplishments is having made some progress on the Cyprus issue with Greece, Turkey's traditional rival.
Cem's departure was almost followed by that of Economic Minister Kemal Dervis. The prime minister asked for his resignation on the grounds that Dervis's closeness to the defecting ministers was incompatible with keeping his post in the government. But Biegala says within minutes after this announcement, the Turkish lira nose-dived against the dollar, forcing the central bank to intervene and Ecevit to reinstate Dervis. Prime Minister Ecevit thus "risked adding a financial crisis to the political one," Biegala writes. Ecevit also came to acknowledge yesterday that if Dervis is successfully shut out by far-right elements in the government, he will have no choice but to resign as well.
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," retired Rear Admiral Stephen Baker of the Center for Defense Information says U.S. President George W. Bush should push harder for a return of weapons inspectors to Iraq before considering military action. Baker says following Bush's lead on a possible military offensive are only "some of his staff, a vaguely supportive Congress, a nervous Defense Department, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. That's about it."
Baker calls U.S. demands for weapons inspections "halfhearted and pessimistic." After talks in Vienna between Iraqi and UN delegates this month failed, the U.S. State Department indicated they were not surprised at the lack of success "because Iraqi statements before the meeting foreshadowed the outcome." But Baker says, "If any statements undermined UN efforts, it was the pervasive U.S. rhetoric on invasion plans, preemptive attack policies, and authorization for the CIA to use all means at its disposal to eliminate [Iraqi leader Saddam] Hussein."
Invasion "is the wrong immediate aim," Baker writes. He says resuming inspections instead "would at least give the world a peek at what threat to global security Iraq really may pose. It is an opportunity to substantiate U.S. claims that Iraq continues to pursue efforts to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons."