Afghanistan Rebuilds as Israel Crumbles

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The World Responds Column Archive


Peace At Last?

Asia's newspapers are filled with detailed analysis of the Afghan power sharing agreement signed this week in Bonn, Germany. Response to the carefully brokered deal -- which sets up a transition government led by Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai -- has been cautiously optimistic. News articles focus on the divvying up of power; the transition government will have a Pashtun leader, but several top cabinet posts will be held by members of the Northern Alliance. Men and women will also share power. "The new government includes a deputy chairwoman," notes The Kashmir Observer, "marking a return of women to public office in stark contrast to the repression they suffered at the hands of the Taliban, who banned them from work and study and made them wear head-to-toe veils."

Asian papers also report on the size of the new government's job. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, "The new administration faces a mammoth rebuilding task requiring billions of dollars in Western aid."

In addition to watching the response from Afghan players, newspapers warn that the response of other countries is equally important. Writes Pakistan's Nation:

While all these developments should be welcomed, it needs to be said that Pakistan should also put its act together and decide on an effective short-term and long-term policy about its relations with the new government in Afghanistan.

Power Abuses or Powerful Leadership?

Just as American newspapers question President Bush's military tribunal policy, the editorial pages of Asian newspapers are filled with debates over a wave of similar laws recently adopted by various governments. The stated goal of these laws is to protect and defend national securities, but they are also accused of threatening civil liberties and compromising open democracies. In the name of fighting terrorism, might they create terror-filled societies in which governments execute the terror?

Siddharth Varadarajan makes such a case in The Kashmir Observer, condemning the recently submitted POTO law as particularly hampering the freedoms of the press, and the freedom to protest and organize. He writes, "Terrorism is an evil, but blunt-edged laws do little to combat this menace. POTO is as much a threat to democracy as the terrorism it is meant to prevent. When Parliament convenes next week, MPs should ensure the law is voted out."

In the lively Pakistani paper The Nation, columnist Nadeem Shahid predicts that Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf will begin doling out his political revenge to religious extremists who protested Pakistan's support for U.S. military action in Afghanistan, undermining Pakistan's credibility in the anti-terror campaign and Musharraf's political position. Although he argues that General Musharraf must take the "chance to bring the supremacy of religious extremists to an end," Shahid tells readers that the fall of the Taliban allows Musharraf to crack down on extremists with more legitimacy -- Pro-Taliban leaders have been "put under house-arrest" and kept in detention since early November.

Yoichi Funabashi's most recent column in the online edition of Japanese newspaper Asahi outlines two newly formed political groups in Japan, and looks at their potential impact on civil liberties. One group consists of young politicians focused on creating a modernized national security system, the other of parliamentarians hoping to form measures of "preventative democracy." Funabashi says these groups, in addition to recently adapted anti-terrorism laws, are a direct consequence of the September 11 attacks. "The Constitution is becoming increasingly 'irrelevant' in terms of security debate," Funabashi argues, "According to the society of young lawmakers, Diet deliberations on the recently enacted antiterrorism special measures law clearly exposed flaws in the nation's security system. Under the current framework, Japan cannot fully carry out its responsibility as a member of international society because of 'restrictions on exercising the right of individual self-defense' and the 'ban to exercise the right to collective self-defense,' according to the society. . .To make up for the legal inadequacies, it aims to establish a 'basic security law'."

War Crimes or War Casualty?

Skeptical as they are of their government's political maneuverings post September 11th, the papers also continue to scrutinize the political motivations of the journalists and political leaders playing major roles in the anti-terror campaign. Many opinion pieces and editorials express outrage at the press coverage of prison uprisings in Afghanistan that resulted in hundreds of Taliban deaths, calling the reporting a sham and a cover-up of a massacre that should have been called nothing short of a war crime.

In another Nation opinion piece that widely represents the sentiments expressed this week, Ayaz Ahmed Khan demands an international inquiry into the "murders" of so many prisoners of war by the Northern Alliance, events he says are part of "a vengeful winter of death for innocent Afghan civilians by bloodthirsty Northern conquerors." Khan says no matter how inhumane or how wrong they were while in power, the Taliban captives ";must be protected, tried and brought to justice under the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions."

From the Far Eastern Economic Review's weekly selection of commentary, Ahmed Rashid writes about the progress of Afghani talks in Germany dedicated to creating a stable post-Taliban regime. But Rashid also accuses the press of giving a free pass to perpetrators of the prison massacre, and worries that the unruly and out-of-control war crimes taking place "don't bode well for reconciliation." If various stakeholders, such as particular political leaders or governments back specific ethnic groups involved in these difficult negotiations by offering financial and political gains, the potential for a truly representative government is compromised.

Finding New Friends or Creating New Enemies?

This week's editorials also address opportunities and pitfalls in the emerging, post-September 11 Central Asian order.
Marc Erikson analyzes China's actions in the Asia Times Online. He claims that because "official Chinese support for the U.S.-led war on terror was slow in coming," China's international political clout has been compromised. Erikson unfavorably compares China's response to September 11 with Vladimir Putin's strong and immediate support of U.S. actions, a shrewd political move which opened important economic and political doorways for Russia, and resulted in unforeseen advantages. Even the late support China gave to the U.S., Erikson points out, has "bought China U.S. acquiescence when Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was not invited to the Shanghai APEC summit. It also allowed Beijing to cast its campaign against rebellious [Uyghurs] in Xinjiang in the light of a fight against terrorist separatists, and the U.S. is not likely to raise human rights concerns under present circumstances."

An opinion piece in Pakistan's English newspaper, Dawn, praising China's recent decision to join the international anti-terror coalition, cites the move as yet another reason "the Pakistan-China friendship has proved to be remarkably stable, and has become the cornerstone of our foreign policy." Events since September 11th may also improve the longstanding but sometimes shaky alliance between Pakistan and Iran, which "suffered some erosion" after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. The piece goes on to argue: "Cooperation between Iran and Pakistan is going to be critically important, notably in the context of Afghanistan, where their having a common approach could make a vital difference to stability in the post-Taliban era."

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read

Middle East

Ending the Charades

Middle East newspapers are filled with news of the escalating violence in the Middle East -- Palestinian suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa and Israeli assaults on Palestinian Authority (PA) targets in Gaza. Articles focus on the dark theme of ending the charade -- the charade of the peace process and -- in Israeli media -- the charade of a unity government.

Editorials in Israeli papers blame the Palestinians, while Arab papers blame the Israelis. The sides differ on the chicken and egg question of who started the cycle of violence, each side defending violent actions as a legitimate response to a previous attack by the enemy. Writes Michael Freund for The Jerusalem Post,

The fact of the matter is that there is no "cycle of violence" in the Middle East. If anything, there is a "cycle of absurdity," one which goes something like this: innocent Israelis are murdered by the PA and its henchmen; the international community feigns concern, expressing its "regret" and "revulsion"; Israel takes limited measures to defend itself; and the international community condemns Israel's "excessive and disproportionate" response.

Freund concludes that Israel should, "thoroughly uproot the terrorist infrastructure and completely dismantle the PA."

Also in The Jerusalem Post, David Newman warns that the Palestinians have more to lose in the escalated conflict. He argues that Israel's hands are now tied: "It's not easy to talk about peace when you believe that you made all the right moves, were generous with your offers to the other side, only to have them thrown back in your face."

The Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, also says it is up to the Palestinians to give in and make peace. Israel is "making special efforts not to cause casualties -- not even among members of the PA's armed forces, whose installations and bases have been attacked," writes Ha'aretz, so Arafat should respond by arresting Palestinian militants. "Despite the current dangerous deterioration," it argues, "it is up to Arafat to decide if the region is indeed doomed to a terrible disaster."

The Jerusalem Post endorses Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to label the Palestinian Authority a terror-supporting organization and act accordingly. Attacking the Labor Party, which is more invested in the peace process, the Post charges, "the evidence of Arafat's complicity in terror is so compelling and so extensive that it is difficult to understand the objections raised by the Labor Party to the cabinet's decision." It concludes, "If Labor is unwilling to do its part in fighting this war, it should quickly step aside and let the government do the job. For the sake of the nation, that is the least it can do."

Gideon Samet, of Ha'aretz, concurs, arguing that Israel's "unity government has become a sorry joke on itself."

The only point on which Arab papers agree with Israeli ones is that after all that has transpired, there is no hope for peace. Even Arab news headlines reflect rage. Trumpets Arab News, "Palestinians reel under Israeli terror." Albawaba announces, "Israel Suspends Strikes against Palestinian Authority, Gives Arafat Tiny Chance to Arrest Islamists." Meanwhile, Jordan Times writer Riad Z. Abdelkarim rails against Western media bias that values Israeli life more than Palestinian life.

Just as Israeli papers charge that it is up to the Palestinians to make the first peaceful move, Arab papers believe peace is up to the Israelis. And as the Israelis label recent attacks on PA targets in Gaza a retaliation for the weekend's suicide bombings, the Gulf News argues, "The suicide attacks, brought on by the deplorable Israeli policy of yet another state sanctioned extra-judicial assassination of a Hamas member last week, have brought Israelis and the Palestinians to the brink of total war."

In an editorial, Gulf News admonishes, "Should Israel, by one means or another, dispose of Arafat -- and latest reports indicate it is trying to do so -- then the whole of the Arab world will be up in arms against Israel. And that is something neither Israel, nor its ally, America, would want." It closes:

The only way to break the brutal circle of violence is to end the occupation immediately, unilaterally if need be, institute a peacekeeping force in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to begin to dismantle the colonies.

The United States does not escape criticism either. Writes George S. Hishmeh in The Jordan Times:

President George W. Bush may have committed his worst foreign policy blunder to date if he, as seems likely, gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the green light to rain terror on the Palestinian territories.

The Iraq Factor

Even as Middle Eastern newspapers battle over the Arab-Israeli conflict, they also turn up differences on whether the United States should attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In The Jerusalem Post, Daniel Pipes and Jonathan Schanzer argue that Hussein is not only a threat to the world, but he is a threat to his own people: "As in Afghanistan, an attack on Iraq would be a humanitarian operation that the local population will celebrate." disagrees. Because of Turkey's militarily strategic location, one article argues that Turkish support would be imperative for the U.S. to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- support that ought not to be forthcoming. In addition, "Such a war may result in street battles on Iraqi territory. Therefore the U.S. must take into account that it might suffer heavy losses." A separate article maintains: "Turkey does not support a possible U.S. operation in Iraq and believes that such an operation would damage Turkey very adversely."

-- By Lindsay Sobel

Europe and Russia

Afghanistan's New Leadership

European papers focus on the triumvirate of hot spots: Afghanistan, Israel and the Occupied Territories, and Iraq. Britain's Independent is cautiously optimistic about the new agreement signed in Bonn, Germany that establishes Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai as the man who will rule Afghanistan during the transition to a democratic government. However, it warns, "the situation remains far from secure in the rest of Afghanistan," noting continued violence and ongoing tribal antipathies.

The German Frankfurter Allgemeine's Berthold Kohler concurs, arguing:

[T]his has created only the basic outline for a more peaceful future in Afghanistan, not guarantees. The international security force will have to protect the Afghans -- or more precisely the rival ethnic groups and tribes on Afghan territory -- from each other.

Only The Moscow Times's Chris Floyd is cynical about the actions leading up to the historic agreement, charging that the war is really about restoring the Northern Alliance's ability to plant poppies for the production of heroin. Floyd proclaims:

Let's connect the dots. Drugs help stoke war. Defense firms sell the weapons of war -- to governments, warlords, terrorists, whoever will pay. The investors and owners of defense firms -- like, say, the Bush family and the bin Ladens -- are directly enriched by war. And so the wars go on.

The Israeli-Palestinian Quagmire

Faced with horrifying new violence in the Middle East, the British Independent's John Whitbeck argues for a radical solution: have the United Nations "impose peace on the belligerents" and offer each side no room for negotiation. Writes Whitbeck:

It should now be clear that issues separating Israelis and Palestinians are too difficult and too emotionally charged for any Israeli leadership (let alone Ariel Sharon) and any Palestinian leadership (even Yasser Arafat) to reach a definitive peace agreement through bilateral negotiations.

The British Guardian's Jonathan Freedland is more restrained, sticking with lashing Sharon for what Freedland believes is an effort to topple the Palestinian Authority. Freedland guesses that Sharon's dream is to make an example of Arafat for would-be future leaders of the Palestinians and thereby diminish the Palestinian threat. Warns Freedland, "[Sharon's] dream will fail, but who knows how much blood will be lost before it does?"

Which Way Saddam?

British papers duel over whether the United States should attempt to topple Saddam Hussein. Matthew Engel of The Guardian thinks definitely not:

The more inconvenient facts -- that the U.S. lacks anything as old-fashioned as a casus belli, that the attitude of the U.S.'s allies ranges from concerned to panic-stricken, that the consequences in the region are potentially stupefying, that no sensible plan of toppling Saddam has yet emerged over the past 20 years and that the U.S. has no idea who on earth might replace him -- are being ignored, at least outside the state department.

David Rose of The Observer, on the other hand says definitely do:

Now, as the United States and its European allies argue over extending the 'war on terrorism' to Iraq, the doves are using the arguments they deployed 10 years ago. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Why? Among other things, "[T]here is more evidence of contact between Iraqi intelligence officers and the 19 hijackers than there is of their personal involvement with [al-Qaeda]."

The Observer also reports that like it or not, Saddam's on the way out. It charges that U.S. President Bush has already ordered the military and the CIA to plan a military operation that could be carried out in the next several months. The paper admonishes, "The plan, opposed by Tony Blair and other European Union leaders, threatens to blow apart the increasingly shaky international consensus behind the US-led 'war on terrorism'."

-- By Lindsay Sobel

The Americas

Security or Civil Liberties? Is the Choice Real?

The trend in newspapers from the Americas is to worry whether the changing climate since the September 11 attacks undermines civil liberties, state sovereignty, and international codes of justice. President Bush's executive order allowing military tribunals to try terrorists is being widely criticized as an abuse of power that threatens international human rights agreements, and gives critics more fuel for their accusations that the U.S. hypocritically employs one set of rules for itself and another for everyone else. Commentators are also trying to predict what new opportunities and alliances are made possible by the changing world order -- post-September 11.

A New Separatism -- Can Canada meld together while it gets cozy with the U.S.?

In Canada, the pundits are racing to catch up with their government's rapidly changing approach to security, an approach which the press asserts has been pushed through the lawmaking process so quickly that it cannot be fairly judged by the public. Much of the commentary therefore shines a belated spotlight on the recently passed anti-terrorism laws, and begins to preventatively hone in on hints of a new military drive lobbying to integrate Canadian defense systems into a joint U.S.-Canadian team.

Considering the new security policy being implied by moves in Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's administration and the military, Jeffrey Simpson writes in the Globe and Mail that Canada's subordination to and cooperation with U.S. policies, particularly economic, has always blurred the fine line between an alliance of "closeness" and one of "vulnerability" for Canada. But, according to Simpson, who predicts Canada will eventually be so closely blended with the U.S. that the dollar will be used and an external tariff shared, "If the military prevails, the new policy will represent the most radical change in Canadian defence policy since the Second World War."

Simpson argues that the atmosphere created by September 11th has already created an opportunity for integrationists and propelled "new anti-terrorism legislation, refugee-screening and border security measures, and military participation in the Afghan campaign," which require synchronization with the U.S. Because these policies have been composed and adopted so rapidly, Simpson voices widely held concerns "about the loss of sovereignty and questions about how seriously Canadian views would be taken within integrated command structures overwhelmingly controlled by Americans." Still, Simpson posits that while Canada must tread less urgently into partnership with the U.S., Canadian nationhood may never be stronger because "post-Sept. 11 has driven Canadian harmonization further and faster than anyone would have dreamed before the terrorist attacks."

Implicitly chastising Jeffrey Simpson's choice of column topic, Lloyd Axworthy argues, also in the Globe and Mail:

Although it may be tempting to change course to focus on border security and our relationship with the United States due to the exigencies of the events of Sept. 11, it would be short-sighted not to recognize that the creation of an international criminal court is an equally important strategic response to global terrorism. It would also be short-sighted not to see that Canada has both the ability and responsibility to make sure that such a court becomes an effective instrument for deterring international criminal acts.

Axworthy vigorously criticizes recent anti-terror laws as short term band-aid approaches to international security and a danger to civil liberties, which serve as the foundations of just democracies. The tendency of governments to "follow the path of expediency and supposed necessity over the much more powerful and enduring concept of justice," results in such poorly conceived laws as President Bush's recent executive order to put terrorists in military tribunals. Axworthy argues such policies are simply "bad politics." The military tribunal, for example, will still "be regarded as American justice. It will not assuage the fears or accusations of those who might dismiss the process as political rather than just."
Rex Murphy's column asks more pointedly, "Without Rights, What Separates Us From Them?"

Papers from Latin America also criticize President Bush's military tribunal system and recent legislation compromising civil liberties in the name of beefing up national security.

In an editorial in El Universal, a Mexican daily newspaper, Manuel Olimon Nolasco slams the new approach to international justice as an enormous loss for modern civilization, returning our most advanced country to an age where "witches" were killed without proof to pacify our fears of evils and demons. "The U.S. society has suffered the persecution of the 'communists' during the McCarthy era," he writes, "Now it will be the 'terrorists'?"

Looking at civil liberties and open democracy inside Argentina, Alicia Dujovne Ortiz explores citizenship, belonging, and difference in the face of fundamentalism for La Nacion, in response to a caricature of Osama bin Laden exaggerating stereotypical "Muslim" features. She asks her readers if there is a typical Argentinean and how can one be sure he really is one. Despite the historical and geopolitical changes that have altered Argentina's demography over the years, Ortiz asserts many Argentineans are intolerant of difference and cold to foreigners. Fundamentalism and racism are now more difficult roots to pull out, Ortiz argues, because they have long ago moved underground. No longer is there anything resembling a Klu Klux Klan, she argues. Today's extremists are entrenched in the middle class.

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read