Conflict Over Kashmir

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Heightened Tensions in Kashmir

India and Pakistan are precariously close to the brink of war over the long-disputed Kashmiri region of India. The conflict heated up after a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament December 13 that India blamed on Pakistani terrorists. Today, the Indian government is mobilizing troops at its border with Pakistan while calling on the Pakistani government to crack down on militants; diplomatic relations between the two countries have chilled. And the Bush Administration, allied with the Pakistani government since September 11, is carefully prodding Pakistan to arrest alleged terrorists, testing the fragile alliance.

Asian newspapers flow with praise and criticism for the Indian government's actions. The Times of India extols Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vaypayee, saying he has "once again proved that he can rise above commonplace political rhetoric and respond statesman-like even to the gravest of provocation." And the "olive branch he has held out to the Pakistani military establishment is perfectly timed . . . [I]t is an overture premised on hope." The Times also concludes that Vajpayee's response takes into account the challenges the Pakistani government faces attempting to arrest suspects.

However, a second editorial charges the Indian government with being too casual about committing Indian troops to war. "It's becoming increasingly hip among India's chattering classes to extol the Americans; to say that we should learn from the way they don't take things lying down," it writes. "Sure, let's learn from them. But why not emulate their extreme -- some would say pathological -- reluctance to expose their troops to bodily harm?" Concludes the Times, "seeing that we are so enamoured by the Yanks, why don't we refrain from undertaking overt military action till we have developed the kind of cutting-edge tech they have, which would minimise human casualties?"

Likewise, the Pakistani Dawn condemns a harsh crackdown on an authorized protest calling for peace in the Kashmir region. Dawn concludes that "government must urgently hold an inquiry into this grave matter and reprimand those found guilty of provoking an incident that can only bring a bad name to this country."

Much of the criticism on the conflict in Kashmir is reserved for the international community, however. The Kashmir Observer makes the plea, "Three wars fought in the past have failed to give a solution, and none is going to emerge even if the two go to war one more time." It expresses concern that since September 11, the "concept of global security has undergone a sea-change, and the word terrorism has been stretched to the extent of even bringing genuine political disputes within its fold."

In the Japan Times, Farkhan Bokhari offers three pointers for the international community as he urges it to push for easing of tension between India and Pakistan: 1) "Western nations should prepare to impose sanctions against whichever side commences military action," 2) "De-escalation of the military buildup, while important, cannot be separated from the longer-term, tougher issues confronting Indo-Pakistani relations," and 3) "[T]here needs to be [follow-up] to deal with some of the pressing economic needs that, left unmet, will only unleash violence as demonstrated by the emergence of hardline activism."

The Pakistani Pocketbook

As tension heightens in Pakistan -- a country torn between its relationship with the United States and its displeasure with India -- the economy also reveals itself to be a source of worry. Dawn reports on the Asian Development Bank's conclusion that the Pakistani economy is set to slow down. But the economic effects of September 11 are not as universally disastrous as they are in other nations. On the bright side,

[T]he economy has gained significantly in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the U.S.. All the sanctions have been lifted. Pakistan's debt burden has been reduced significantly. The IMF has approved a three-year loan of 1.3 billion dollars.

On the dark side,

Increases in freight rates and the imposition of war-risk insurance will increase the cost of imports and make Pakistani exports less competitive.

The cancellation of air cargo flights by foreign airlines will disrupt trade flows. And the possible departure of expatriates from the country and the suspension of visits by foreign buyers will not allow the country to maintain normal trade relationships.

Dawn advises, "We could . . . send as many trade delegations as possible trotting all over the globe . . . to explain to the donors how their general policies are hampering their own particular economic objectives in Pakistan."

-- Alyssa Rayman-Read

Middle East

The Endless Conflict

A Ha'aretz editorial criticizes Prime Minister Sharon's latest "stance against a peace gesture," in which Sharon blocked President Moshe Katsav from making a goodwill appearance before the Palestinian parliament. The paper wonders why Sharon would prevent such a visit given that the President is merely a figurehead and any discussion would be merely diplomatic, and hold no official political sway. A direct appeal to Palestinian elected officials could "only have yielded positive results," according to Ha'aretz, "whether in the form of strengthening moves toward a cease-fire and encouraging a return to the political track, or by creating mutual legitimization and diminishing the hate that is fueling hostile actions." However, the paper cynically answers itself, returning to its skepticism of Sharon's policies, asserting that "when he insists on constructing a wall against any political initiative or idea, to the point where he nixes an initiative that constitutes no security or political danger to Israel, one cannot help but wonder about the intentions of the man who promised to bring peace and security."

The Jerusalem Post interprets the decision entirely differently, charging that Katsav made a terrible public relations blunder by not rejecting the proposed appearance out of hand. It editorializes:

Whatever Darawshe's true intentions might be, the truth of the matter is that this entire episode was clearly little more than a public-relations ploy, one that only served to paint Israel as being the obstacle to achieving an end to the violence and bloodshed. Sharon acted correctly when he rejected the proposal.

Therefore, the Post concludes, "By failing to bury the idea at the outset, Katsav inadvertently played right into Arafat and Darawshe's hands, prolonging the story and enabling the PA to score a few points in the battle for public opinion."

A Ha'aretz op-ed written by Nadav Shragai denounces Sharon's policies, but this time in regards to a possible cover-up of excavations at the Temple Mount, where Sharon's visit in September 2000 is widely believed to have provoked the beginning of the current wave of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Shragai claims that the proof of unlawful activities, such as the digging and denigrating of ancient sites (which is contentious because of the disagreement about ownership rights, etc. between religious groups), including photos and testimonies, is indisputable yet quite possibly occurring with the consent of key Israeli officials. Shragai argues that "damage is still being inflicted on the most important site in Jewish history, that freedom of the press and the public's right to know regarding the Temple Mount is being violated, and that continued and dubious use of the argument 'for reasons of national security' is hiding the truth about what is happening on the Temple Mount from the public.

In addition, The Jordan Times charges that the Israeli government's recent bombing campaign -- directed at targets such as sewage plants, power facilities, and radio towers -- is destroying the state building capacity of the Palestinians. And with that destruction, it is strengthening the hand of Hamas. "Ultimately, it is not whether Arafat is knocked off that matters," argues the Times. "It is the status of these mundane civil institutions which predicts just how bad this conflict may get." The article concedes that the Israelis "are right to be outraged with the loss of innocent lives at the hands of suicide bombers." However, "Sharon may want to take heed before tearing the fabric of Palestinian civil society beyond repair. Stateless Palestinians with nothing left to lose are the absolute worst thing for Israeli security."

Faults of the Americans

Writing for The Jordan Times, James J. Zogby charges "pro-Israel groups and their erstwhile friends in the neo-conservative movement" with conducting a campaign bent on:

aggravating U.S. ties with Arab countries; expanding the U.S. war on terror to Iraq while allowing Israel to act as a surrogate in destroying the Palestinian National Authority; complementing Israel's destruction of the PNA, with U.S. actions to cut ties with the Palestinian national movement; and isolating the political emergence of the Arab American and American Muslim communities.

Zogby argues that "Not only Middle East peace, but the very architecture of regional cooperation and the U.S.-Arab relations built up over the past several decades are at stake." He proposes that Arabs "articulate a common vision of the future -- a vision that articulates the benefits of a comprehensive peace so compelling that it can win support."

In Gulf News, Khaled Al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News, lashes back at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for alleging that Saudi Arabian schools and charities are responsible for anti-American terrorism. He concludes, "It is not our schools or madrassas that breed bitterness against the United States. It is the unqualified support your country gives to Israel."

The Jerusalem Post contributes an interesting collection of opinion pieces from Arab newspapers, translated from Arabic by Shira Gugold. The Arab language paper Al-Quds Al-Ara published in London argues that Americans launching attacks against the treatment of women in Afghanistan need to look in the mirror. "Where are women's rights, when statistics show that one in every three American women is raped -- in addition to sexual harassment in the workplace, and even on the part of generals in the military, during their hours of rest from bombing Iraq and Afghanistan?" the paper asks. "What humiliation could be greater for women than fashion shows or beauty pageants, in which so-called beauty queens are stripped before the hungry eyes of men so that their intimate measurements around the bust and hips can be taken, as if they were calves at a cattle auction?"

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read and Lindsay Sobel

The Americas

From Canada -- A Little Laugh, a Little Cry

Back to the future, say Canadian pundits -- the U.S. finds itself in the ominous position of arming new allies. This time the allies are the unlikely leaders of Nepal, who have been struggling to quell a popular Maoist uprising for six years. According to an editorial in the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail, thanks to September 11, Nepal's civil-political battle may be over -- or at least not so bleak. The U.S. recently contributed to Nepal's effort to stamp out the communist dissidents by promising a shipment of ten fully armed helicopter gunships. "Chalk up another shift in the realpolitik of our post-Sept.-11 world," says the paper. "Should [Prime Minister] Mr. Deuba's drive to stamp out the Maoists falter, expect to see further high-tech U.S. armaments delivered to Nepal, and possibly much else. As with plenty of other countries previously seen as largely irrelevant to U.S. interests, faraway events have redefined remote Nepal's place in the world."

The Globe and Mail's Heather Mallick writes in a New Year's declaration that it's about time to "get back to having minds of our own." Her harsh criticism, sugar-coated with dry humor, not only takes on what she calls the U.S.'s constitution-violating policies post-September 11, but America altogether; "Rage, rage against the dying of the 'I don't agree.' Onwards in dissent," she counsels the readers that she accuses of behaving like sheep as their leaders give the thumbs up to anything pro-American, exchanging their democracies for political gains:

I have been silent for months now as we have all attended our American-run obedience school. Columnists wrote with a straight face that "we are all Americans now" and must rally in the face of the enemy ("Let's roll," George W. Bush said, but he meant "Let's roll over" for an authoritarian government) . . . I thought it was mad, but said nothing, out of tact, as the Americans violated their Bill of Rights, permitted secret trial and execution of swarthy foreigners and used the crisis to give billions of dollars to giant corporations to fire hundreds of thousands of their citizens and to turn their Social Security into a gambling casino. I shut up when Canada invited the FBI to set up shop here. I was holding out for the Brits. Tony Blair then repealed Magna Carta, 786 years of civilization down the bog because the Western world wants to make Osama bin Laden, a murderous, giggling, rich boy, into the new Che Guevara.

From Latin America -- Is There Room for Hope?

In Argentina, where the embers of recent political fires are not yet safely cooled, the New Year brought in the nation's fifth president, charged with fixing what many observe is a doomed economy and a volatile political climate. One of Argentina's national daily papers, The Nation, takes a touchy-feely approach to recent developments in Argentina. [The following four links are in Spanish] Jose Ignacio Lopez says the Church offers humanity the best advice for coping with such tragedies as the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC and the current socio-politico-economic crisis in Argentina. According to the teaching of the Pope, the true pillars of peace are justice and, as Lopez clearly emphasizes, "el perdon" -- Forgiveness. "There is no peace without justice," he repeats, "There is no justice without forgiveness."

Meanwhile, The Nation's editorial preaches more gently, saying now is "The Hour of National Unity." Before Argentina can avoid repeating past mistakes, it must reestablish public order and social calm. According to the paper, "there is [now] no alternative but to start all over."

Perhaps a bit more grim is another of Argentina's daily national papers, El Clarin, with a piece by Ernesto Garzon Valdes titled, "Argentina is a sad example of 'Neanderthal society'." Argentina's "suicidal illusion of neoliberalism" gave birth to an indecent society. Therefore, submits Valdes, the crisis suffered by Argentineans today cannot be blamed on natural catastrophe or on imperialist impositions, but on "our incapacity" to secure the necessary conditions of a common, dignified survival.

Finally, from neighbor and sometime rival Chile, comes critical analysis of Argentina's economic policy and the reasons behind its economic crash. The Chilean daily paper, El Siglo, reviews the history of Argentina's economic growth and looks ahead at the consequences for Argentina of the past few weeks of economic trauma. Columnist Horacio A. Lopez looks rather lovingly at the socio-political uprisings last week in Argentina, judging them a healthy expression of political rights in the form of a popular rebellion. Lopez points to the events as examples of Latin America's tendency to take political battles into the streets, living rooms, and universities, affirming once again the power of populist politics.

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read

Europe and Russia

The Kashmir Question

The newly heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir are a topic of much debate in the British press. Journalists profess equal measures of despair and hope. Writes The Guardian's Peter Press, "Kashmir, perhaps even more than the Middle East, is the world's most intractable, most punishingly futile crisis." The Financial Times offers a more optimistic assessment:

Crises are often opportunities in disguise, in that they can erode established patterns of political behaviour and disrupt ingrained ways of thinking. So it may yet prove to be over the incendiary issue of Kashmir.

He concedes that India has a "legitimate grievance" against Pakistan: "Pakistan has meddled in Indian-held Kashmir and given moral support and probably more to militant groups that have committed terrorist acts in India." However, he argues:

With the humility that comes from the knowledge that it was imperial Britain that helped cause the problem of Kashmir, Mr Blair should also suggest to India that outside mediation can sometimes help solve domestic disputes . . . A Washington-backed envoy could at least help tackle the international dimensions of the Kashmir issue.

The Economist also holds out some hope on the conflict over Kashmir:

Yet even now, there is the possibility of progress. The last time the leaders of India and Pakistan met, in Agra in July, the talks at one point came quite close to yielding a useful outcome, which would have seen the establishment of regular ministerial meetings with Kashmir at the top of the agenda, and even a role in the discussions for the Kashmiris themselves. The prospect was dashed mainly because Pakistan would not offer India a promise to work on the problem of cross-border terrorism. Now General Musharraf is doing precisely that.

The Year of the Right

The British Guardian begins the New Year worrying that 2002 will be the "year of the right." Noting that even war is no longer a collective action, columnist George Monbiot charges, "The real crisis for progressives . . . arises from . . . the atomisation of society." He offers the following sweeping advice:

The smashing of society provides us with the means of building movements which are not limited by national or ethnic loyalties . . . It may permit us to create an internationalist movement far bigger than any before, united by a common opposition to what is now an international ruling class. But first we progressives may have to abandon almost every strategy which has worked in the past.

The Guardian also warns, "2002 promises to prove one of the riskiest years both economically and politically since the 1970s." Its solution is also a sweeping progressive one: British Prime Minister Tony Blair should use his newfound international influence to push for a modern Marshall Plan for poor nations.

Haggard in Afghanistan

British journalists remain conflicted about the war in Afghanistan. The Guardian's Terry Jones sarcastically congratulates the allies on achieving their first policy objective: making Osama bin Laden look haggard. In contrast, The Independent argues:

In many respects, the campaign was remarkably successful. The early collapse of the Taliban and the establishment of a transitional government [that] is ready to talk about co-operation between different ethnic groups seemed scarcely thinkable when the bombing campaign began. That achievement is remarkable. But it is all the more important not to squander the political gains, which remain enormously fragile.

-- Lindsay Sobel