After the Taliban

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The World Responds Column Archive


The U.S. Coalition Against Terror: Who's On The Short List?

As Allied troops and the Northern Alliance chip away at Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, journalists throughout the world struggle to keep in step with the hourly changes of events. Yet while frontline reporters trail military troops on the ground, editorialists are focusing on the future -- who should govern a post-war Afghanistan, how should the U.S.-led forces proceed militarily, and who should have the power to make such decisions in the first place?

There is little consensus among international journalists -- many even disagree on which countries should be included in the U.S.-led coalition against terror.

In an editorial in The Japan Times, Imitaz Ahmafd First Secretary of the Embassy of Pakistan in Tokyo, refutes international misgivings about his country. "No amount of sophistry linking it to international terrorism or so-called fundamentalism can obscure the fact that the Kashmiri resistance is indigenous and legitimate. Pakistan as well as Kashmiri leaders have always condemned any violence directed against innocent civilians, from whatever source."

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner of Pakistan in the UK, reiterates Ahmafd's defense of Pakistan, worrying that Western media perceives the country as "'a failed state' about to pass into the hands of home-grown Taliban." Now that a "nuclear hue" has been added to the country's problems, Hasan's op-ed for Pakistan's The Daily Jang struggles to winnow the truth from the "media blitzkreig" of misperceptions. Yet despite his criticism of Western reporting, Hasan acknowledges the consequences such a threat to the nuclear arsenal would pose, urging his country to further clarify its policies towards terrorist regimes:

No doubt pro-Taliban elements are a microscopic minority, [but] the fact that most of them are armed demands a national effort to save the country from imminent Talibanisation. The only way out is return to democracy that can wake up and mobilise the silent majority into irreversible action.

Who Should Rebuild?

Newspaper editorials will likely continue to analyze and challenge Middle Eastern allegiances for some time to come as leaders continue to re-evaluate their international alliances. But the media is also delving into the individual nations' domestic policies; now that the world has glimpsed an end to the war, the domestic future of the nations in conflict has become an international issue. In the absence of local government, the question remains, who should dig the first foundations for a new regime?

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Ahmed Rashid of the Far Eastern Review pins his hopes for rebuilding of the country on the UN. Envoys Lakhdar Brahimi and his deputy Francesc Vendrell arrived in Afghanistan on November 17, 2001 and plunged into successful meetings with the Northern Alliance. But even with the UN's help, it won't be easy for the many Afghan factions to form a new government, he warns. If the international community does not form a government in Kabul soon, we risk allowing "all potentially constructive alliances [to] dissolve into murderous civil war." But he also asserts that, ". . .at the end of the day it will be up to the Afghan warlords to bury their differences and save their own people."

Rafi Raza of Dawn, Pakistan's most widely circulated English-language newspaper, proscribes the same course of action:

It is essential to ensure the national and territorial integrity of Afghanistan. . .Given the Northern Alliance's hostility, it should be Pakistan's main endeavour to have a stable and neutral government in Kabul, initially under the UN auspices. . .Pakhtoon leaders who are not part of the Taliban should be encouraged to participate in any future set-up. . .The orderly establishment of a broad-based government in Kabul will contribute to the return of the Afghans now in Pakistan.

Jihad or Not?

Although Western leaders struggle to assure the Muslim world that their war on terrorism is not an attack on Islam, in war-torn Afghanistan these words are often met with apprehension and skepticism. Time and again, President Bush has gone on the airwaves, claiming, "this is not a religious war," while Muslim extremists proclaim that their battle is a jihad against the West.

But many Muslims shudder at extremists' invocation of the word "jihad". "Jihad, which for every Muslim should mean fight against injustices and inequality has been misinterpreted and exploited in such a manner that the end result is more humiliation and shame for the followers of Islam," writes Dr. Moonis Ahmar, a writer and associate professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Karachi, Pakistan, in The News International, Pakistan. He adds:

The liberation of Palestine is not possible by launching terrorist [campaigns] against the United States or the West but is achievable by putting their [Muslims'] house in order. As long as there are major contradictions among the Muslims, they will continue to lose in all fields and will have many humiliations like Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Pakistani journalist M.A. Muqtedar Khan, makes these same distinctions in a memo to American Muslims in the Pakistani journal The Nation. "Muslims, including American Muslims, have been practicing hypocrisy on a grand scale. They protest against the discriminatory practices of Israel but are silent against the discriminatory practices in Muslim states," he writes. Khan disparages al-Qaeda's rhetoric, noting that "jihad" cannot be waged against others when the same purported "evil" lies within your own ranks.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. . .Israel treats its one million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens. Today Palestinian refugees can settle and become citizens of the United States, but in spite of all the tall rhetoric of the Arab world and Quranic injunctions (24:22) no Muslim country except Jordan extends this support to them.

Jemima Khan, an Islamabad author, writes for, a Pakistani Internet news portal, "I was horrified to see a freshly painted red sign on a wall: 'Kill all Jews. Jihad [in Islamabad]'. . .Abhorrent as this kind of extremism may be, it is a direct result of what Muslims see as gross injustice, due to overwhelming Jewish influence in US politics and the media."

Afghani freelance writer Mawlawi Muzawwar furthers this notion in a column for the Internet news site,, accusing the West of a premeditated campaign to kill Muslims. "The cancer deaths of several Italian soldiers have confirmed what many have long been saying: That the Allied wars in Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo were thinly disguised Crusader campaigns of 'religious cleansing' designed to wipe out Muslims in the Balkans and greatly reduce their numbers in the Gulf," he writes, arguing that the soldiers died after exposure to depleted uranium munitions used by NATO forces in their bombing campaigns. This alone, according to his argument, justifies jihad.

-- By Cara Feinberg

Europe and Russia

Balancing Act: Homeland Security and Civil Liberties

On the international front, European columnists continue to argue about the morality and viability of their contributions to the military response to terrorism. But on national affairs, newspaper pages still brim with appeals for the preservation of civil liberties at home in the face of such conflict.

Martin Thomas of the British newspaper, The Guardian, criticizes the new British emergency anti-terrorism bill which is scheduled to go before the House of Commons this week. A home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and a lawyer who has both prosecuted and defended terrorists, Thomas argues that the proposed law is similar to the 1971 Northern Irish anti-terrorist bill -- a law introduced in response to the growing threats of the time. According to Thomas, the British bill, like its Irish predecessor, would strip detainees of their rights, allowing detention without trial, arrest solely on the basis of suspicion, and arbitrary, unchecked judicial decisions.

Another British national newspaper, The Independent agrees that the bill is misguided, however its reasons for criticism extend beyond The Guardian's. Though the bill aims to protect Muslims within the UK, The Independent argues that the issue at hand is more a matter of ethnicity than theology. People discriminating against Muslims will be "selecting their victims by the color of their skin rather than by their doctrines." Thus, to insure such protection, the bill must be re-evaluated; inciting hatred of a religion is impossible to define and therefore risks suppressing free speech. In addition, the editorial deems the protection laws to be too little, too late. "New powers to lock people up on evidence that would be inadmissible in normal courts is poor compensation for paucity of evidence in the first place."

In Germany, the national daily The Frankfurter Allgemeine reports similar conflicts within its own nation's borders. Lower Saxony and Bavaria announced this week that they would join forces to push a bill through the Bundesrat that they feel would "add teeth" to the German government's second anti-terror package. Under the former German plan, passports and identification cards would contain "biometric data" such as fingerprints or facial dimensions and characteristics. Also, police and other security agencies would gain access to databases previously closed to them. The new plan would create new grounds for deportation, including endangering the fundamental principles of a free democracy and belonging to associations that support terror activities abroad.

French papers too, focus on security legislation. France has stepped up its internal security laws, according to an article on The World Socialist Website, a publication of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Following the attacks in New York and Washington, the senate and parliament passed the "law for security in everyday life" by a large majority. The law grants wide-ranging powers to the state and sharply intrudes on the individual's private sphere. "This includes the use of dragnets, house searches even at the pre-investigation stage, the continuous monitoring of telecommunications [including e-mail and Internet traffic, and] harsher immigration procedure." In addition, private security agencies have been given far greater powers to engage in personal checks and luggage inspections in public places, and now may also carry out body searches.

In a particularly controversial move, the new law also seeks to barricade France against refugees. Although The World Socialist Website analyzes the laws in terms of their homeland security aims, it also critiques them in relationship to France's almost permanent series of labor disputes and desperate actions taken by workers whose jobs, standard of living or work safety are threatened. "The worsening economic situation makes clear that the new security laws are not so much directed against international terrorism, but rather give the state the necessary means to deal with any domestic unrest," the article claims.

UN-Sponsored Talks in Germany: Determining Afghanistan's Future

For weeks now, journalists, scholars, and policy-makers worldwide have been discussing the future government of Afghanistan. This past week, Afghan leaders have agreed to officially meet with other world powers to talk about it. The U.N.-sponsored conference held in Bonn, Germany began Monday November 26th and gathered 25 or so Afghan delegates to decide what sort of foreign force, if any, should keep the peace and guard the distribution of humanitarian aid.

The conference has drawn both worldwide attention and bated breath; by mid-week, few details had emerged from the talks, though the mood was described as "very positive," as all the countries agreed to agree on one issue: the need for a transitional government as soon as possible. According to the German newspaper, The Frankfurter Allgemeine, "It is still not certain whether the four Afghan negotiating groups can agree on a Pashtun as their leader, but this solution must be seen as probable. Certainly suspicion arose that the United Nations had, even as negotiations were beginning, put forward a name so as to test the water."

An analysis in London's The Economist described the challenges the conference members face: "The Northern Alliance is a loose grouping of militias drawn mainly from ethnic minorities. Their rule would be unacceptable both to Pushtuns, the largest ethnic group, and to Pakistan, which regards them as little better than proxies for Iran, and, worst of all, India. There are clear signs that Russia and Iran together are trying to establish the Alliance as the outright winner of the war, and want to restrict American and, especially, Pakistani involvement in any post-war settlement." Nonetheless, "merely getting Afghan groups to agree to show up is an achievement," the editorial argues. "The worry is that local politics are outpacing UN-led country-building just as the military offensive did. A motley cast of characters is grabbing power by virtue of tribal stature, religious authority or access to money or guns."

Russia and the West: Warming Over Cold Relations

After the meetings between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Washington and Crawford, Texas, editorialists are beginning to weigh the events' impact on subsequent events and relationships between the two countries. U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Alexander R. Vershbow, in an op-ed this week in The Moscow Times, describes the meetings as "the culmination of an historic period in U.S.-Russian cooperation that may well be viewed as a watershed in our relations." According to the article, despite all of the international efforts to soothe the wounds of the Cold War, "it was the terrorist acts of Sept. 11 that gave the relationship an even stronger impetus."

The strategic choice by Putin to give Russia's full support to the anti-terrorist coalition had a dramatic effect on the administration leadership and the American public. That choice made clear that our two countries, together with other Western democracies, were now operating on the basis of shared interests and shared values and not on the basis of tactical necessity alone.

Similarly, an editorial in the British newspaper The Financial Times, looks glowingly upon the meetings between NATO secretary general Lord Robertson and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin this past week. Although they agreed that Russian membership of the organization is not in the nation's foreseeable future, they decided that Moscow should have some sort of permanent tie with the alliance. Though the editorial warns that the partnership with Russia must not be unconditional, it views the agreement as a positive move that makes the world safer and augurs a new era for former Cold War enemies.

-- By Cara Feinberg

The Middle East

Powell Gets a Rock and a Hard Place

Middle Eastern newspapers zero in on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent speech on the Arab-Isaraeli conflict and the choice of retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni as a peace negotiator ? most taking predictably intransigent positions.

In one of the most vivid of Arab newspapers' critiques of the Powell speech, an Arab News columnist characterized the talk this way:

Secretary Powell's words seem equivalent to that of a policeman walking past a rape victim, still pinned under her assailant, and verbally scolding both parties by advising them to work out their differences. Nevertheless, America has spoken. Israeli occupation must end. Palestinians have a legitimate right to self-determination.

The Jerusalem Post hits Powell from the other side. One columnist howling:

Now that US Secretary of State Colin Powell has given us his vision for the Middle East and for the peaceful, economically viable and progressive neighboring state that will be established next to us, my only question is what planet does he live on?

But the Post does not reserve its critiques for Powell alone. In an op-ed, Shmuel Katz charges, "As for the approval by Sharon and Peres of Powell's speech -- it is a shocking and dangerous blunder for which, if not comprehensively corrected immediately, Israel will pay a heavy price."

Only the Israeli Insider praises Powell. Writer and peace activist Uri Avnery opines, "[I]f we remove the frills and bare the skeleton of the plan, we find that it is logical and reasonable."

While Arab newspapers present Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence on seven days of calm before peace negotiations begin as a noncooperative opening move, the Jerusalem Post praises it. "If Arafat is incapable of controlling his terrorists for even seven days, what kind of a partner will he be?" asks one op-ed. "If he is capable of doing so but does not want to -- and this has in fact been the situation for the last 14 months -- he certainly cannot be a partner for diplomatic negotiations."

Not a Time for Jubilation

Middle Eastern papers also warn the United States that despite the perceived good news that the Taliban is losing control of Afghanistan, it should beware the current state of affairs. Arab News editorializes:

Despite the operational advantage of keeping their aims ambiguous, the US and British need to start giving clear assurances that their physical presence on Afghan soil is extremely short term. If they fail in this, the consequences could be a whole new conflict.

And the Gulf News condemns reports of Northern Alliance atrocities towards captured Taliban soldiers, arguing, "The allies and the Northern Alliance need to take a stand and stop all acts of brutality."

The Media Angle

Media spin is also in the news throughout the Middle East, the Jordan Times detailing an Arab League conference dedicated to heading off characterizations of the present conflict as a war between the West and Islam. And the Jerusalem Post reports that former Clinton strategist James Carville, may help Israel improve its image in the United States. The reason? "[S]ince the terrorist attacks, the perception that Osama bin Laden is somehow motivated by America's support for Israel has mounted, and many Jewish Americans have expressed concern about growing anti-Israel sentiment."

-- By Lindsay Sobel

The Americas

It's the Economy

Newspapers in the Americas focus on the political and economic ripple effects of the recently announced recession in the United States. Canada's Globe and Mail reports: "The suicide attacks flattened economies that were already staggering, and introduced new elements into a U.S.-Latin America relationship that was complicated enough." From Mexico's concerns that the Bush administration may renege on promises to loosen controls on Mexican labor, to Colombia's worries that the United States' new focus on terrorism doesn't mean it will step up efforts to combat "terrorism" in Colombia, to Venezuela's struggle with falling oil prices and Argentina's attempts to avoid a debt default, the paper argues that countries across Latin America are "singing the bin Laden blues." The paper concludes, "Hundreds of millions of Latin Americans kicked out dictators over the past two decades and won the right to choose their leaders. How unfortunate that so much of the region's future seems beyond anyone's control."

The Mexican News concurs, reporting that the nation's government is worried that the American recession will cause Mexican migrants to the United States to stay in Mexico after they return home for the holidays. "[T]housands of migrants who worked in the U.S. service industry have been fired since the attacks and are now faced with the decision to stay in the United States and look for another job or head home." And home has few jobs to offer.

Civil Liberties Spat

Two Canadian papers skirmish over the anti-terrorism legislation making its way through the Parliament. The National Post editorializes:

Sept. 11 demonstrated the need to amend the social contract that balances freedom and security in this and other liberal democracies. [T]he omnibus anti-terrorism legislation . . . is a credible step in that direction.

Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail's Naomi Klein argues that Parliament could unfairly restrict the right of protest. And a Globe and Mail editorial blasts Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien's government for squashing debate on the important issue.

Will Bonn Beget Pashtunistan?

Newspapers from the Americas also report on international affairs, the Canadian Globe and Mail highlighting Pakistani fears that talks in Bonn about the future of Afghanistan won't result in a government with sufficient Pashtun control. If so, the paper relates, Pakistanis are worried that "Pashtuns from Afghanistan and Pakistan would join together in a homeland called Pashtunistan, taking a big bite out of Pakistan's northwestern flank."
And a Countrywatch editorial from Venezuela's countrywire argues that the United States should not use this conflict as an excuse to attack Iraq:

[T]he frustrated officials who served in the administration of President George H.W. Bush should temper the temptation to raise the stakes and finish what they left unfinished in 1991 by simply asking themselves whether this would be worth the total loss of international support.

Hey Osama, What's Your Sign?

Here's a twisted gimmick: Canada's National Post has begun to report Osama bin Laden's horoscope. It reports:

You are discussing plans for the future with others to let them know exactly where you stand on important issues. You may also receive critical and disturbing news. By nature you are meditative and like to make plans before acting. Use today to clarify your thoughts and actions. Speak with certainty. The relative ease with which you have travelled in the last three weeks will diminish by Dec. 2.

At least it's probably as accurate as punditry.

-- By Lindsay Sobel