Blair's Homecoming and Arafat's "Ship of Death"

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Egging on India-Pakistan Tensions

The political and military standoff between Pakistan and India dominates the headlines again this week. Despite international pressure -- including a joint statement from Russia and China, and admonishment from George W. Bush -- efforts to defuse the confrontation have been unsuccessful. India's prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wants an end to attacks by Pakistan-based, Islamic militants in the disputed region of Kashmir; Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf insists he is cracking down.

The uncertainty -- and mistrust -- of both sides finds an outlet in the editorial pages of the local press. As Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali writes in Pakistan's Dawn, the "mega question that now looms large is: where is all this leading to? Will it be war or does peace have a chance?" He lays blame for the escalating tensions squarely at India's door, arguing that Musharraf has "moved forcefully and decisively" to meet Indian demands, and speculates that -- whatever its motives -- India's current strategy is bound to fail:

It is also generally agreed that India is reacting disproportionate to the provocation, and there is no finger pointing to the Musharraf government's complicity. If anything, he is thought to be a beleaguered leader internally for having to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan . . .World opinion, sympathetic as it is to India's rage, is gradually turning against India's war-mongering.

Not everyone agrees, of course. A Hindustan Times editorial praises India's tough stance, and calls for further vigilance:

However, even if General Musharraf manages to convince his visitors that he is taking steps against the terrorists, it is unlikely that India will be assured, especially in view of the reports that the arrested leaders of the terrorist outfits are currently comfortably ensconced in government guest houses. Their past experience of Pakistani tactics may have told them that their present difficulties are for external consumption only.

Talks between the two countries, the Times argues, will only resume when Pakistan stops the "double game [it] has been playing."

An editorial in Pakistani newspaper The Nation, analyzes Tony Blair's visit to the region this week, concluding that "selective interpretation" of what constitutes terrorism has somewhat damaged the West's credibility. "Mr. Blair had singled out only the Srinagar Assembly and Parliament attacks as terrorism, overlooking the ruthless reign of terror the Indian security forces have let loose in Kashmir," The Nation argues. "This can be taken as reflecting the West's overall position in its war on 'terrorism'." But, a bloated definition of terrorism will undermine Pakistan's legitimate political aims in the region, the editorial points out, and threaten Musharraf's fragile government by creating more local sympathy for militants in Kashmir.

Increased support for India's position has another downside -- not only for Pakistan but also for the Western anti-terror coalition now active in Afghanistan. An article in Asia Times warns that the Western approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan has opened the door to domestic abuses by authoritarian regimes around the world:

Thus beware that the big anti-terrorist stick will likely come down hard in months and years to come on the heads of more easily identified legitimate political opponents, while it may miss murderous hard-core militants.

Topping the list of opportunists, according to Asia Times: China, Malaysia and Uzbekistan -- the latter a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

-- By Natasha Berger

The Middle East

The Optimists and the Pessimists

Today's papers report on Wednesday's outbreak of violence at a Gaza army post, in which four Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians died. But the focus for Mideast opinion pages remains on the recent seizure of Karine-A -- the Gaza-bound boat laden with weapons. Conservatives and liberals in Israel agree that the news of an intercepted munitions shipment reeks of violent intentions and therefore weakens Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat's credibility. Arab papers argue that Israeli investigations have been biased and the real story continues to be Prime Minister Sharon's hypocritical foot-dragging in the so-called peace process. How Wednesday's attack will affect this debate remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, one of The Jerusalem Post's less conservative columnists, David Kimche, tries for a neutral state-of-the debate analysis, outlining for readers how various parties and players are judging the U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni-inspired proposal for the -- ever fragile -- "seven days of calm" between Israelis and Palestinians.

The discovery of the arms shipment en route to Gaza, which Israel argues was directed by the Palestinian Authority, indicates a "renewed intifada" and lends credibility to the pessimist perspective. (The Palestinian Authority denies all connections to the vessel.) However, the optimists argue that the Palestinian Authority, despite provocation from Hamas, realizes that a strategy of calm is preferable to a strategy of violence, especially as an advantage in the court of international public opinion. According to a "leading Palestinian" Kimche quotes, Palestinians, "'have come to realize that every bullet fired plays into the hands of [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and his right-wing supporters, who fear the resumption of a political dialogue with us much more than they fear the violence'." Kimche argues that in order for the optimist perspective to make practical gains, Israel must be willing to rescue the peace process. Yet the Karine-A scandal has just thrown ice on Israel's cold position toward the Palestinian Authority. Kimche explains:

The Palestinians will have only themselves to thank for having provided such a strong and convincing reason for delay, but for those of us who refuse to accept the one-step-forward-two-steps-back character of our conflict with the Palestinians, this latest setback will be just one more hurdle to surmount in the effort to get the peace process back on track.

The generally liberal Israeli daily, Ha'aretz, agrees in principle with the Post, albeit more gently, editorializing that the Karine-A affair "indicates that Arafat is preparing for a huge escalation, including the ability to equip hundreds of suicide attackers with explosives and to attack Israeli cities with rockets." Ha'aretz also contributes what Kimche might call the lefty pessimist position of Zvi Bar'el, who argues that the Karine-A situation exposes, yet again, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's futility as a partner in peace:

Sharon could not hope for a better mechanism for placing obstacles in the way of the peace process. The munitions ship, it would seem, offers yet another reason for Israel's digging its heels deeper into its entrenched position and for its opposing any diplomatic move whatsoever. Sharon, and not just Arafat, could also be awarded the label of irrelevance regarding the peace process.

This Monday's Jordan Times editorial, while making strong demands of both Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat, argues that Israel has unjustly manipulated the Karine-A scenario to its advantage. The paper calls for the United States to conduct independent, and therefore more reliable, investigations of the arms seizure so that Israel is not left to make groundless accusations:

Last weekend, we were subjected to yet another episode in what is by-now known as "the propaganda war," with fresh Israeli charges that the Palestinian National Authority was engaged in terrorism and tried to smuggle 50 tonnes of missiles and other weapons into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Given our inability to investigate the Israeli charges first-hand, we can only trust our decades-long experience of how deceiving and cunning Tel Aviv's propaganda machine can be. But one player -- the most important one -- has the means and authority to look into the matter and uncover the truth: If Washington believes that uncovering the truth could be constructive, one day we might really clear up the business of this 50 tonnes cargo.

The Opinion-Makers and The Opinion-ated

Aside from the latest strife, the raging debates about culpability and meaning in the Karine-A affair, and the respective leadership capability and credibility of Arafat and Sharon, the papers this week focus on the meaning and the making of opinion -- who makes it, who listens to it, and whether or not we should.

Yale University Professor (and American) Edward H. Kaplan makes light of the U.S. State Department's recommendation warning Americans against traveling to the Holy Land in The Jerusalem Post's op-ed pages. Kaplan argues that the safety risks, particularly regarding the increased threat of terrorism, are exaggerated and rooted in scandal-driven media hype rather than real evidence of peril. Although the psychological threat of terrorism might feel more immediate in the wake of September 11 and in the midst of rising Mideast violence, the potential of death from other causes, such as in an auto accident, are far higher than the potential of dying in a terrorist attack.

During his one-week visit to Israel, Kaplan calculates, he took a chance of 1.7 in one million that bad driving or terrorism would kill him. "Had I followed the State Department's guidance and canceled my visit to Israel, I would have instead enjoyed a 2.8 in one million chance of being killed in a motor vehicle accident at home." In other words, Kaplan concludes, "for those keeping score, my death risk would have been 65 percent higher in the U.S. than in Israel. While American officials try to combat the psychological and economic effects of September 11th, urging their citizens to continue traveling, buying, and, essentially, living as normally as possible despite fears of insecurity and recession, they undermine that business-as-usual intention by counseling against travel to Israel, where every flight cancellation, cowed businessman, and drop in tourism rates is a victory for the terrorists.

In one of the longer, "Week's End" section pieces published in Ha'aretz, Lily Galili writes a passionately Zionist piece about the reaction to September 11 in the American Jewish community and the impact of September's attacks on the relationship between American Jews and Israel, highlighting college campuses as examples of Jewish discord and disappointment. She accuses "liberal campuses" like Columbia, University of Michigan, and Berkeley, where Arab and Muslim groups have organized protests against Israeli roadblocks in the occupied territories, of being "enclaves from which dissonant sounds emerge that spoil the patriotic harmony," and "the arena in which an increasing interest in Islam is being expressed." Amid Galili's apparent worries that such post-September 11 self-expression undermines national unity, she concludes that the U.S. experience of terrorism does bring American Jews closer to fellow Israeli Jews:

For years, American Jews have been confused in their attitude towards the political process in Israel; Even those among them (about 50 percent) who support the dovish position, have felt that they were prevented from expressing their opinion, because they have no moral right to talk about this issue. Now this feeling may change ... The loaded dialogue between Israelis and American Jews was always accompanied by a hidden subtext of "You give money and support, but we give blood; you live there in peace, and we live here with terror." September 11, as a collective American experience, has erased this guilt factor.

A piece by Dr. James J. Zogby, published in both The Gulf News and in the Jordan Times, cites polling disparities between American opinions and foreign opinions to make a strong appeal for better investigation of foreign opinion and cultural and class perspectives, as well as better comprehension and use of such opinions when they are sought. Relying on recent Pew study results that indicate "a rather substantial gap exists between U.S. opinion and the attitudes of most of the rest of the world, on some key questions of foreign policy," Zogby's piece attempts to demonstrate the lack of such information rather than drawing conclusions. He does point out, based on the what opinion testing has been done, that "unilateralism has consequences."

Saudi Arabia's issues press commentaries summarizing local newspaper opinion and editorial. Tuesday's round-up shows the papers remain furious with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and believe the international peace-keeping community has "'retreated from playing any effective role in the peace process'." This summary of press arguments, despite originating in the Arab media, sounds almost identical to some of the criticisms waged in Israeli newspapers against Prime Minister Sharon.

--Alyssa Rayman-Read


Bashing Blair

As excitement over the debut of the Euro dies down, European media revisits the old questions of terror, war and the flagging economy. Volker Zastrow, writing in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine, takes a bird's eye view of the European political landscape, noting that recent events have only confirmed the supremacy of the United States in world affairs:

Europe's position is reflected in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. It is not powerless, but it is a second-rank player. As a result, the daunting task of ensuring Afghanistan's stability has fallen essentially to Europeans after the U.S. air strikes enabled the ousting of the Taliban regime.

This division of labor (and power) in Afghanistan is provoking criticism, not only of U.S. policy, but of European leadership as well. In the U.K., Tony Blair's peculiar position as both cheerleader and participant in the war on terror is attacked and defended with equal enthusiasm in Anne McElvoy's piece in U.K.'s The Independent. She praises some aspects of his interventionist, "hard liberalism," but complains that he is becoming too entangled in problems abroad, while domestic matters get short shrift. McElvoy's advice: Be realistic.

[Claiming] a "pivotal" role for Britain in world affairs is a rhetorical notch too far. Since Britain is not capable of doing very much abroad without the support of the United States or a combination of European powers, the disclaimer that "Britain is not a superpower" indicates an odd fixation with the term. Britain was an imperial power once, as India surely knows, but no one really thought of it in the post-war category of super-powers, actual or potential.

But not all U.K. columnists are as charitable to Blair and his support for Bush's foreign policy. The Guardian's Isabel Hilton warns that a lack of sensitivity in the India-Pakistan confrontation -- evident during Blair's trip there this week -- is undermining the West's stature in the region:

It seems as though Britain and the US have failed to understand that politics happen in other countries too. Sensitive to every nuance and grumble of their own electorates, they crash blindly into the political theatre of others and start knocking the set about.

Alluding to India's painful history under British rule, Hilton chastises Blair for his lack diplomacy.
"India was hardly the most sensitive choice in which to proclaim the UK's born-again global mission, " she writes, adding:

The faintest pause for thought would have revealed that a core credential in Indian politics remains identification with the struggle against imperialism. That was British imperialism, I believe. To pop up again half a century later on a mission to sort the world out risks the unpleasant resonance of an uninvited second coming.

Lessons from Afghanistan

For Russia, the New Year has brought a fresh offensive in Chechnya, another page in that region's protracted and bloody struggle for independence from the Kremlin. In a stinging piece in The Moscow Times, Pavel Felgenhauer acknowledges the futility of the war, while accusing the U.S. of setting the worst kind of example:

Successful and ruthless operations by U.S. troops in Afghanistan have also inspired Russian commanders. If U.S. soldiers are allowed to wipe out entire villages in revenge attacks, kill hundreds of innocent civilians "by mistake," cause mass hunger and deprivation by deliberately attacking and destroying International Red Cross stockpiles of relief supplies, then who can possibly scold Russian generals for war crimes in Chechnya? Today the West has given Moscow total carte blanche to do whatever it pleases.

Felgenhauer sees Chechnya as a stark example of how not to fight terrorism, warning rather ominously, that "sheer ruthlessness cannot stop popular rebellions and is particularly counterproductive in fighting terrorists, as the United States may soon discover as it celebrates its Afghan victories."

-- By Natasha Berger

The Americas

War on Idiocy

Who said Canada was boring?

The Globe and Mail's opinion coverage of September 11 this week played out like a left-wing stand-up comedy routine.

Margaret Wente's most recent contribution to this line of humor columns in Tuesday's edition, titled "How About a War on Idiocy?" pokes fun at fellow members of the Canadian intelligencia for buying into wildfire rumors of a U.S. September 11 conspiracy theory. "I think," writes Wente, "it is that for this generation of so-called intellectuals, nothing is too wicked to put past the dark forces that rule America."

John R. Macarthur's piece takes criticism of political use of September 11 as PR material to another level. When Macarthur writes that, "the hunt for Osama bin Laden offers those who script U.S. foreign policy a way to distract us from awkward links to the Saudi regime," he literally means script:

Now that Osama bin Laden has revived his fading movie career in the surprise hit of the season -- a remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel -- film enthusiasts might be curious to know what the producers who run the U.S. government are contemplating as a sequel. After more than two months of bombing, the overthrow of the Taliban, and several thousand corpses, the Arab Leslie Howard apparently remains at large -- in charge of a mobile studio -- which leaves the writers at DreamWorks East scrambling for a new plot.

While Macarthur rants about the moviemaking potential of post-terror attack politics, another Globe and Mail columnist, Rick Salutin, raves about the writing potential of post-September 11 in his piece, "He won't stop writing on the war." Topic for writing?

At any rate, politics is back, as everyone says, since Sept. 11, after decades when we were told business would suffice, and back in the worst possible way. An overweening government presses into every area of life, not via education or health care, but through prying and policing, against an ill-defined enemy, making whole populations edgy. Their solutions include: giving bags of money to the rich and eliminating minimum corporate taxes. This is called making the people stronger and winning victory over terror.

The Globe and Mail's Barrie McKenna reminds readers worried about the post-September 11 stress on travel that it's "not necessarily a bad thing if some airlines fail."

The Spanish Language Press

As Argentina's economic crisis continues, a column from Harvard University's Jeffrey Sachs makes it into the op-ed pages of the Argentinean daily paper, La Nacion. Sachs argues that national development requires more investments in public health, particularly to aid in protections against epidemics and to protect and improve maternal and child health. After citing statistics showing the horrible discrepancies between the health standards of wealthy nations and poor nations, Sachs optimistically calls on international institutions to "truly unify in the great battle against sickness and poverty" and says he has confidence such a battle will indeed be fought.

Clarin, another Argentinean daily, contributes a piece by Israeli opposition leader Yossi Sarid, who argues that the "U.S. should intercede in Israel." As Sarid dramatically explains it to his Argentine readers, "it takes two to tango and once again, Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat are dancing their dance of blood and desperation."

In Mexico's El Universal, Emmanuel Carballo debates whether President Bush and Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's new popularity is merited and to what degree September 11 promoted their celebrity.

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read