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Western Press Review: Pearl Verdict And The 'American Taliban,' Poland's Finances, And Kashmir Tensions

Prague, 17 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several major Western dailies today carry items discussing some of the human aspects of the "war on terrorism." The conviction this week of four militants for the murder of "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl is the subject of much media discussion. Other publications carry commentary on the plea agreement reached between the U.S. Justice Department and John Walker Lindh, the young American found fighting with the Taliban.

Other topics addressed include whether Poland's new finance minister can calm investor fears and renewed tensions in Kashmir, following the 13 July killings in the city of Jammu.


"The Washington Post" says the 15 July conviction of four militants for the murder of "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl "offered a conspicuous sign that at its highest levels, the Pakistani government remains committed to collaborating with the United States in the war on terrorism." But the paper remarks that the verdicts may be less significant than they seem. "Because the actions were taken by a special antiterrorism court, they are vulnerable to reversal by higher appeals courts.... What looks like decisive action against a group of terrorists may turn out to be a half-step, and reversible...."

The paper says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's aims in fighting terrorism may be compromised by his political ambitions. His authority has been undermined by his call for a referendum to extend his term in office, and now his support for a series of constitutional amendments that the paper says would "severely restrict any future democracy" in Pakistan. These actions serve to "alienate his administration from the very forces in Pakistan most capable of supporting a secular government against religious extremism." The "Post" says Musharraf must be willing to accept "that he cannot rule Pakistan by himself."


Today's "The Washington Times" says Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf will have to use all the power at his disposal to keep militant extremism "from threatening his position and his country's security." But the fact that the Pakistani judicial system did not allow threats from extremists to derail the trial of Daniel Pearl's killers "provides hope that [Musharraf] won't be alone in his efforts."

The paper says the trial of those accused in Pearl's death "has been considered a litmus test [for] Musharraf's commitment to fight extremism" and to work with the United States in its war against terror. But similarly, the paper says, Islamic militants have also seen the outcome of the trial "as the measuring stick for how far [Musharraf] has compromised their interests."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today discusses the plea bargain concluded between the U.S. Justice Department and John Walker Lindh, the young American citizen found fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The paper says it is significant that the federal government decided to drop the 10 terrorism charges included in Lindh's original indictment. Justice Department officials "made slightly apologetic remarks" regarding this decision, and explained the agreement as "a way of allocating finite resources in the administration's war against terrorism." But the paper says such statements "would seem to suggest, not very credibly, that the money saved by not prosecuting Lindh on terrorism charges was needed for the military war on terrorism."

The paper says what was even less convincing "was the triumphalist crowing of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said the plea agreement with Lindh's defense counsel was an 'important victory in America's war on terrorism.'"

Lindh pleaded guilty to two charges: "providing services" to the Taliban "and carrying explosives -- in this case two grenades -- during the course of that felony." The "Globe" says, "If Lindh's conviction on those charges represents an important victory in the war on terrorism, as Ashcroft claims, then that war must not be going very well."


In Britain's "Financial Times," Alexander Nicoll writes from New Delhi saying the Indian government issued "a restrained response" this week to the 13 July murder of 28 Hindus in the city of Jammu. The government made no overt accusations of guilt and even emphasized its willingness to discuss granting increased autonomy for Indian-held Kashmir.

But Nicoll says Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani's 16 July statement to parliament "was mostly a reiteration of long-held Indian positions and appeared designed to prevent overt escalation of tension." He says some observers believe India wants to "retain the high ground" it obtained when Western powers joined it in condemning cross-border terrorist attacks such as the one in Jammu. The West also joined New Delhi in calling on Pakistan to stop the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control.

But Nicoll also notes that on the same day as Advani's speech, two incidents in Indian-held Kashmir injured 19 people, 14 of whom were civilians.


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Eric Biegala discusses early Turkish elections, now scheduled for 3 November. Writing from Istanbul, Biegala says Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit "finally accepted [the] idea of early elections" after his party, the Democratic Left Alliance, lost its majority in parliament yesterday.

Biegala goes on to say that the outgoing ministers from Ecevit's ruling party risk being overly complacent ahead of the new elections. Their leader, former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who resigned last week, should seek to "rebuild the structures of his new political party before throwing himself into the electoral battle." Biegala says this project will be more difficult than it seems, as numerous bureaucratic and administrative demands must be met before a political party can be officially established in Turkey.

Turkey cannot hope to benefit from new leadership before mid-November, says Biegala. And the European Commission's report on Turkey's chances for EU membership -- due on 15 October -- will only have seen the very beginnings of Turkey's necessary reforms. Biegala says this pleases the Turkish far right, which does not favor liberalizing either Turkey's institutions or its practices ahead of joining the EU.


In an editorial today, French daily "Le Monde" discusses the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler has presented several suggestions for making the CAP less expensive, more in tune with the demands of consumers, more selective, and less category-specific in awarding subsidies.

But the Fischler proposals are angering several EU member states, notably France. As the largest agricultural producer in the EU, France's farmers receive most CAP subsidies. The French government maintains CAP reform is not necessary until 2006, according to the Berlin agreement. But "Le Monde" says the government is mistaken and calls reform "inevitable."

However, the editorial says the fear is valid that CAP reform might lead to some EU members demanding a decrease in their contributions to the common agricultural budget. Germany and Britain are net contributors to the CAP, while France profits. But the paper says their contributions cannot decrease significantly if the EU wants to continue with its expansion plans on schedule.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," economist Krzysztof Bledowski says the unexpected resignation of Polish Finance Minister Marek Belka this month -- and the "equally surprising" appointment of Grzegorz Kolodko to take his place -- "spooked the investor community."

The zloty lost close to 5 percent against both the euro and the dollar after Belka's departure. Bledowski says, "Confidence in the country's economic leadership [and] faith in Poland as a solid emerging market risk has been deeply shaken." Investors "justifiably want to know whether Poland is the next crisis-in-waiting."

But new Finance Minister Kolodko sought to calm fears and appease those eager for government action by suggesting a "two-pronged" approach. First, Kolodko vowed to narrow the anticipated 2003 budget deficit, but he did not specify what form the cuts would take. At the same time, he proposed that the uncollectible debt of state-owned enterprises would be written off "in return for verifiable commitment to restructure."

But Bledowski said what really matters are not "general statements or tiny-scale microeconomic remedies." Instead, he says, it is "bold action that addresses the real issues."