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Western Press Review: Pakistan 'Weakest Link' In War On Terrorism

Prague, 29 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A spate of commentary in the press today sounds an alarm over Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has been the target of two failed assassination attempts in two weeks. Editorials also comment on the possible good that could come out of Iran's devastating earthquake.


"The Guardian's" Peter Preston asks, "How many more lives does the president [of Pakistan] have?" Preston answers, "Not too many, perhaps."

Preston writes that a successful attempt on the life of Pervez Musharraf is likely, and that the consequences would be dire. "Without Pakistan on board, Afghanistan cannot hold. Without Afghanistan, the campaign against terrorism turns to humiliation. Where's Osama [bin Laden]? Somewhere in a cave near the border. Where are his men? Regrouping beyond the reach of the stretched forces [U.S. President] George Bush has left behind. Musharraf, grimly pursuing his chosen course to the end, keeps Pakistan as the indispensable foundation of coalition activity."

Preston writes: "But what happens if he vanishes from the scene? The bombers who try and try again aren't stupid. They've asked and answered that question, too. Pakistan hangs in a constitutional void. It has a president, self-selected and sanctified by a dodgy referendum. It doesn't have an anointed successor waiting to take over and carry on seamlessly if the worst happens, only a void."


In an editorial, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" calls Pakistan "the world's weakest link" in the war on terror.

The newspaper says: "Like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is suffering from more than 20 years of striking a devil's bargain with Wahhabi Islam. Starting with Zia ul-Haq in the early 1980s, Pakistan's rulers have too often appeased Islamic extremists in exchange for political support. Pakistan's intelligence services helped create the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its political leadership turned a blind eye to the Saudi money that has funded extremism in Islamic schools."

The editorial concludes: "The message of the assassination attempts is that there is no safe middle way for Pakistan. The extremists want to kill Mr. Musharraf and turn Pakistan into a terrorist radical Islamic state; they can't be bought off or appeased. They have to be defeated. The path toward greater stability is for the general to work with those political forces that want greater democratic participation but without an Islamic state. The status quo looks increasingly perilous, both for General Musharraf and the United States."


The paper also carries today a commentary by Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to two Pakistan prime ministers, now a visiting scholar at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Haqqani says Musharraf's policies lack focus and vision and that this is where the greatest danger lies for the United States. Haqqani writes, "The precariousness of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been exposed by two assassination attempts within 11 days on the life of Pakistan's ruler." He adds, "Pakistan poses a challenge for U.S. policymakers because it cannot be characterized easily as friend or enemy."

Haqqani goes on: "General Musharraf and his close military advisers have yet to implement a comprehensive strategic shift in Pakistan's foreign and domestic policies. His approach to the multiple crises staring Pakistan in the face has been tactical." He says, "The fact that he opted for a deal with political Islamists at a time when militant Islamists are trying to kill him, instead of befriending the secular opposition that seeks restoration of democracy, betrays his lack of overall direction."


"The Christian Science Monitor," under the headline "A Slender Reed in Pakistan," editorializes, "The two recent attempts to assassinate Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, expose again the fragile foundation underlying U.S. policy regarding Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan, and the broader war on terrorism."

The editorial continues: "Internally, General Musharraf seized power in 1999, yet another military coup for Pakistan. Each coup has resulted in further erosion of the original secular democracy, as generals played to Islamist extremist groups as a power base to balance the civilian political parties."

The newspaper concludes: "Observers are still scratching their heads over his announcement last week of a deal with Islamists to surrender his post as army chief in return for extending his term of office to 2007. The next day, suicide bombers tried for the fourth time to kill him -- possibly with inside help. The problem is that no one can see an alternative to Musharraf. Pakistan's civilian politicians have been notoriously incompetent rulers. But the Bush administration and its allies had better be looking for other allies in Pakistan -- and developing policy options that include them."


"The Christian Science Monitor" also is one of a number of newspapers that comment on political consequences -- perhaps positive -- of Iran's devastating earthquake. The editorial says: "Earthquakes do more than just level buildings. Often they level mountains of differences between peoples."

The newspaper says: "The U.S. military -- whose last big venture into Iran was a mangled attempt to rescue American hostages in 1980 -- quickly flew in 150,000 pounds of food and medical supplies to aid survivors. The Americans were warmly greeted by Iranian military workers as they worked together to unload cargo."

It says: "The goodwill seen in the earthquake aid does open the door wider to create a level of trust. The quake also helped level the unequal relations between Iranians and the ruling Islamic clerics."

The editorial concludes. "The quake's huge death toll, as well as the loss of Bam's medieval citadel, is regrettable. But the political after-tremors are worth noting and building upon."


"The Independent" says in an editorial, "The Iranian earthquake may bury the idea of the axis of evil."

The editorial says: "For us in the West, no longer believing in acts of God except in insurance exclusion clauses, it is hard to take in the scale of last week's earthquake in Iran. In the face of death and destruction of such epic proportions, we have no larger story to fall back on, apart from the slow, unrelenting advance of the Arabian tectonic plate, pushing against the Asian land mass."

The newspaper continues: "In that light, the language of George Bush's 'axis of evil' seems even more inappropriate than it did when it was foolishly coined two years ago. It is a trivial consolation, but the rapid mobilization of international aid to the flattened city of Bam, including from the United States, will, in all likelihood, help build lasting links between Iran and the rest of the world.

"This is not simply a matter of the immediate response to the disaster, which seems to have been as quick as it could have been, but of the vast task of reconstruction ahead.

"As this newspaper has long argued, engagement, rather than isolation, offers the best prospect of strengthening the reformist elements in Iranian society."


"The Irish Times" editorializes that a generous Greek response to a terrible earthquake in Turkey four years ago opened relations between those two tense neighbors. It says that model may apply now in Iran. "The national and international response to such tragedies can break political moulds."

The editorial says, "The rapid and sympathetic international response to the Bam earthquake will [one hopes] broaden this approach and strengthen those Iranians who support [openings to the West]."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" takes a harsher tone, criticizing Iran's leadership for failing the people. In an editorial, the newspaper contrasts the foreign response with the domestic. "Not much has been heard from the Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, the theocratic ruler of Iran, since a devastating earthquake hit the southeastern city of Bam early Friday [26 December]. His business is politics, not humanitarian relief. [Khamenei arrived in Bam today.]

"But fortunately for the survivors, the international community has put politics aside to rush aid to the victims. The United States, using its new presence in Iraq as a staging point for disaster relief teams flown from America, was quickly on the scene to try to save some of the thousands buried in rubble."

The editorial goes on: "The United States also is flying in some 150,000 pounds of medicines and surgical supplies from bases in Kuwait to the wrecked city in southeastern Iran. The build-up for a war in Iraq has now become a readily available resource for treating wounds inflicted by a natural disaster. Equally valuable are emergency skills for warding off the possibility of an epidemic caused by the pollution of water supplies.

Relief teams from all parts of the world, including China and Russia, are on the scene as well."


Britain's "The Times" editorializes that a silver lining exists "in the dark clouds over Iran."

"The Times" continues: "Sometimes the simplest good deeds count more than fine words. Putting aside politics and diplomacy, the world has united to help survivors of the earthquake in Iran."

It says: "The tents, blankets, blood, medical supplies and food being rushed to Bam are testimony to the generous instincts in every human heart. Yet good intentions can lead to complex outcomes. Friday's earthquake will have far-reaching diplomatic aftershocks. Some will affect Iran's relationship with the ideological enemy that zealots in Tehran label the 'Great Satan,' the United States."

The editorial concedes: "Against this backdrop, President Bush's wise gift of aid will serve two purposes. It will help the needy of Bam now. In the longer term, it should also help to persuade Iranians that, today, there is no place for anger against distant scapegoats, satanic or not. Bam's tragedy will not have been entirely in vain if it helps an old enmity to fade."