Opportunity and Danger

Asia | Europe and Russia | Middle East and Africa | Australia | The Americas

The World Responds Column Archive


Afghan Uncertainty

On the day after opposition forces took over cities in Northern Afghanistan, the Afghan on-line news agency Afgha.com ran an article entitled "Why the Taliban Collapsed So Quickly," by Anthony H. Cordesman of the Washington, D.C.-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. While many European papers hesitate to label this military action a victory, Cordesman's article sees the Taliban's retreat as an unequivocal collapse, and goes on to analyze the factors that contributed to the first phase of demise. "No one should assume [the war] is over until it's over," Cordesman acknowledges. Nevertheless, he then lists causes for its disintegration including: 1) the Taliban's alienation from the population, particularly the Pashtun group at its core, 2) the loss of Pakistani support and resupply, 3) a military force density that could not compete with the U.S.-led forces, 4) the U.S. bombing of communications and command control centers, and 5) divisions within the Taliban/al Qaida.

Despite this "victory," many Afghan sources express a great sense of fear about their uncertain future. "The return to fiefdom of a former warlord that has reportedly brought back music into Mazar-e-Sharif may not be real music to the starving nation of Afghanistan," writes Dr. G. Roashan in an essay published by the Institute for Afghan Studies. Roashan reminds us of the humanitarian need, and its precedence over political rebuilding.

Wary Celebration in Pakistan

Pakistani reaction to the Taliban's retreat in Northern Afghanistan is one of measured exhilaration. While newspapers proclaim victory for the Northern Alliance, they are careful to confine it to the military rather than the political realm. According to the Pakistani newspaper The Nation, Younis Quanooni, a key member of the anti-Taliban leadership said, "We are just here to keep security and stop criminals from bothering our citizens. We are still committed to the Council of National Unity which we have formed with the former king [Mohammed Zahir-Shah]." The paper reports that following the capture of the city by opposition forces, music was broadcast over Kabul radio for the first time in five years, and the songs were introduced by a female announcer -- another major breakthrough for a city where women have been banned from education, work, and many other civil liberties since 1996.

China's Ambivalence

On one level, China seeks to be a member of the international community, yet on another, it "remains uncomfortable with the rationale that underlies many multilateral regimes and actions," editorializes The Far Eastern Economic Review. This ambivalence has become increasingly evident since September 11, as the country attempts to define its own policy toward terrorism in Afghanistan, as well as the threats within its own boundaries. While China dislikes the Taliban and fears the spread of its influence, it does not support its overthrow, fearing the political void and humanitarian disaster that would likely result. But over the past week, China has emerged a more confident player on both the regional and world stage. Though the U.S. has repeatedly urged China not to use the war on terrorism to crack down on civil liberties of its own ethnic minorities, on November 16, Beijing asked the international community for support against Islamic separatists within its territory, claiming it has hard evidence linking ethnic Uyghur separatists of the northwestern region of Xinjiang with a series of violent attacks over the last decade. "Thus the Afghan crisis illustrates the two-sided nature of Chinese diplomacy," the editorial asserts, ". . .An increasingly cooperative and confident China, but also one that exhibits more insular and suspicious proclivities."

India's Positive Outlook

The Indian media's response to the fall of the Taliban in Northern Afghanistan is less restrained than that of its neighbor, Pakistan. According to an editorial in The Hindustan Times, "With the liberation of Mazar-e-Sharif, the impossible seems to have become possible." The article describes a revolution for Afghani women as if it had already come to pass, closing with the line, "With the music back in Mazar-e-Sharif, it's time to celebrate."

On the political front, General Pervez Musharraf's meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington receive very different appraisals from India's various news agencies. One of India's national newspapers, The Hindu criticizes Musharraf for returning empty-handed, failing to secure an endorsement from the U.S. "After more than enthusiastically offering to join the coalition against terror, India has found itself on the sidelines," the article claims, listing "vague promises" from Moscow and Washington of a role in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan. Yet in direct contradiction, The Hindustan Times calls the meeting "a major gain for Pervez Musharraf," congratulating him for thwarting the forward movement of the Northern Alliance. The article viewed President Bush's directive to the Northern Alliance not to enter Kabul as a signal that the U.S. has become more receptive than before to Islamabad's pleas against "an entity which has made no secret of its dislike for Pakistan."

The Times of India however, sees these political squabbles as premature. We cannot think about a future government without first considering the obliteration of terror. How, for instance, will we deal with Osama bin Laden? In its lead editorial, the paper discredits bin Laden's threat of nuclear retaliation, but it notes his keen sense of timing and persuasive PR tactics -- threats of a different order, but nonetheless, viable methods of intimidation. "The timing of the interview could be significant, coinciding as it does with General Musharraf's visit to Washington. . .The underlying motivation could be to sow distrust between Washington and Islamabad, and to deter the large-scale use of bases in Pakistan by U.S. forces."

-- By Cara Feinberg

Middle East and Africa

The Taliban Loses Ground in Afghanistan: Opportunity and Danger

Middle Eastern papers provide news coverage of jubilation in Afghanistan as the Taliban relinquishes more of the country. However, the media also report on regional concerns about who will control Afghanistan, arguing that key players must take decisive action quickly. Arab News editorializes that allowing the Northern Alliance to cement control over portions of Afghanistan would be a disaster -- particularly for Pakistan, a country despised by the Northern Alliance. Writes the Arab News, "What is needed now is the immediate return of King Zahir Shah, the only person who can provide a symbol of national unity, and the establishment by him of an interim government. . .The conditions for a lasting peace exist. . .Delay could be fatal." On a more optimistic note, Al Bawaba, which calls itself the "Middle East Gateway," reports that the Northern Alliance supports a multi-ethnic interim government and elections in two years' time.

The Primacy of Fighting Terrorism

Israeli media opine this week that combating terrorism is paramount to all other concerns. In the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, Moshe Arens argues that terrorists can take advantage of democratic governments to conduct nefarious deeds. Arens applauds the United States Congress' anti-terrorism bill, explaining, "The lesson has been learned -- a democracy must protect itself, even at the cost of certain limits on the freedom of its citizens." And he brings the lesson home, writing, "Israeli legislators are awakening to the need for appropriate measures that may be restrictive in nature but are nevertheless essential for the protection of Israel."

In an emotional appeal in The Jerusalem Post, parents of a slain Israeli teenager slam the American press. They write, "Many American newspapers . . . have bought the Palestinian propaganda line that murderers who kill innocent Israelis like Koby are not terrorists . . . but rather 'militants' who are engaged in a campaign of warfare against a repressive government."

The Jerusalem Post draws a similar conclusion, praising President Bush's United Nations speech: "Bush also started to break away from the mistaken idea that peacemaking is part of fighting terrorism, rather than fighting terrorism a prerequisite to making peace." Expressing the rare opposing view, Shlomo Gazit warns in The Jerusalem Post that if Israel and the Palestinians fail to come to the negotiating table, there will be an enormous escalation in violence. There are two choices, he writes: "To let the process develop towards a big bang, or to initiate an immediate action, unilateral or coordinated, that will place Israel and the Palestinians on the path towards negotiation and calm."

The Middle East Newswire contributes an op-ed proposing that the United States and Iran work on improving relations. The writer endorses the view of political analyst Ramin Jahanbegloo, who argues, "It's for sure that the dialogue between Iran and the United States can help integrate Iran into the international community. And most important, it would help the reform movement and strengthen civil society" in Iran.

-- By Lindsay Sobel

Europe and Russia

What Next For Afghanistan? Europe Looks At Its Role in the Conflict

For the last few months, the U.S.-led military efforts in Afghanistan have been analyzed and critiqued under the microscope of newspaper editorialists and columnists throughout the international community. But this past week, following the Northern Alliance's military breakthrough in Northern Afghanistan, European papers uniformly agreed upon one thing: this action -- whether or not we deem it a victory -- marks a new phase in the campaign against terrorism.

While the Northern Alliance's military breakthrough certainly signifies the end of one struggle, it is only the beginning of another, ventures The Irish Times, echoing opinion columns on the continent. The editorialists worry that such military action could create a political vacuum in its wake, destabilizing the entire region. Now that the Taliban has been driven from the North, the future government of Afghanistan is "squarely and urgently on the international agenda." Most pressing is the issue of humanitarian aid, the editorial continues, emphasizing the need to clarify political objectives before winter strips away the Afghani people's remaining resources.

"The seizure of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday [November 9] represented the first substantial victory of the campaign," claims the British newspaper, The Times, "It made it possible, at last, to draw a cross on a map to show where the Taleban had been pushed back." Yet despite this positive outlook, the editorial goes to great lengths not to exaggerate the breakthrough, citing the many new challenges accompanying such a victory and "the diplomatic conundrum" of our relationship to our Afghan allies. The lead editorial in The Independent concurs, explaining that "new gains make more explicit the ethnic and tribal divides that so closely mirror the political schism in Afghanistan…Events on the ground are overtaking [political] moves and it cannot be long before what passes for the seat of government in this fractured nation is seized by opposition forces."

In a column in The Guardian, Faisal Bodi, a writer on Muslim affairs and editor of Ummahnews.com, directs his criticism directly at the British government, lamenting the growing chasm between the community and those who claim to represent them. While a survey found that 96 percent of UK Muslims were in favor of a halt to U.S. bombing in Afghanistan, he claims that Downing Street's "spin merchants have tried to project a sense of Muslim solidarity with its Afghan adventure…Instead of seeking authentic voices and opening its ears to dissent, it has cultivated a species of self-serving leaders to concoct a media-assisted fiction."

Guardian columnist Gary Younge takes the argument a step further, accusing Britain of blatant racism towards Muslims. "Why should people be expected to prove their allegiance simply because they are Muslims?" he asks in an article entitled "The Right To Be British." The recent surge of nationalism following September 11th, "assumes a British identity that is both static and established," he argues, criticizing British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his rush for photo opportunities with dark-skinned Brits. "He loves Islam," Younge writes, "It's the Muslims he has a problem with."

In another Guardian column, Afghan freelance writer Jawed Ludin fears for the future of his country, taking issue with what he deems an ill-conceived military strategy. "As the military action enters its second month, the political process has been abandoned. Yet the problem of Afghanistan does not, and cannot, have a military solution." Ludin outlines a new alternative structure to replace both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, arguing that the former king, "still holds the key to a national leadership heading a broad-based government." The basic ingredients of such a government were there before the U.S.-led bombing, Ludin argues. Now however, after two months of incessant air strikes, he fears the political resolve has been largely marginalized.

In sharp contrast to the fear and malaise on the British op-ed pages, Günter Nonnenmacher, a columnist for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine sheds a very different light on the Northern Alliance's military actions in Afghanistan. Whereas British columnists -- both the supportive writers and the skeptical critics -- rarely used words like "victory" or "success" to describe the recent taking of Northern Afghan cities by the Alliance, Nonnenmacher deems them as "a triumph of the anti-Taliban forces."

"No one will be able to say any longer that the air strikes against Afghanistan are useless because the Taliban cannot be defeated from the air, that the military strength of the Northern Alliance is inadequate and its political leadership is in too much disarray to achieve crucial victories on the ground," he writes. Yet despite his positive outlook, Nonnemacher recognizes many new challenges and questions raised by the military efforts, calling the military success a "first stage" in the war against terrorism. "The war has not yet been won against a Taliban guerrilla wing that might already be forming, and certainly not against the military wing of Mr. Bin Laden's [al-Qaida] movement," he writes.

Journalists in Russia, a country intimately familiar with conflict in Afghanistan, were quick to label the Northern Alliance military victory a very small step in the long haul that lies ahead. The Russian newspaper, Pravda ran the headline, "Kabul Has Been Taken, But The War Is Not Over Yet," reporting that the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), the pro-Taliban agency in Pakistan, confirmed that Kabul yielded to the forces of the Afghan opposition.

Russian Outlook: What Will Result from the U.S.-Russian Summit in Washington?

Russian newspapers are filled with commentary on this week's summit between President Vladimir Putin and President George W. Bush. An editorial in The Moscow Times urges Putin to return from the U.S. with a salve in the form of "tangible results" for Russia's skeptical military and political elite who fear that Russia is giving without getting anything in return. Putin wants U.S. support for redefining Russia's relationship with NATO and for helping Russia to eventually join the World Trade Organization. This would greatly help Russia, the editorial argues, as well as aid the U.S. "Integrating Russia into the West economically and politically would do more for U.S. security than any deal on [nuclear missile defense]."

The daily Internet news source, The Russian Issues.com, reports that Russian experts are giving conflicting political estimates of the summit's outcome. While some argue that the U.S.-Russia alliance is a purely temporary arrangement (since there is no foundation for better relations), others maintain that today, the U.S. needs Russia more than Russia needs the U.S. The article urges Russia not to squander this opportunity, as it is one of the first in the last 10 years.

Meanwhile, newspapers report that the State Duma plans to examine several legal measures that would target the spread of terrorism on Russian soil. If adopted, these measures could infringe on citizens' rights; as Chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, Alexander Gurov says, "Democratic institutions must not play into the hands of the terrorists."

-- By Cara Feinberg

The Americas

A Blessing and a Curse

The Canadian paper, The Globe and Mail, focuses on the uncertainty created by the Northern Alliance's seizure of Kabul. Columnist Marcus Gee writes, "For the United States and its allies, the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance could be either of two things: the beginning of a dream come true or the beginning of a nightmare." Columnist Paul Knox concurs, arguing that while the retreat of the Taliban is a victory for the United States, the takeover by the the Northern Alliance -- which the U.S. opposed -- "could be a setback for the United States, and a more serious one for Pakistan, Washington's most important ally in the hunt for terror kingpin Osama bin Laden." Knox continues, "by seizing the capital, the Alliance has greatly improved its bargaining power in the talks that have begun about the makeup of Afghanistan's next government." All worry about the possibility of civil war in the multi-ethnic country.

Economic Anxiety

Latin American newspapers focus on events closer to home, reporting the sad stories of victims of the American Airlines crash Monday. They surmise that the tragedy was an accident, but do not rule out the possibility that it was terrorism.
The Argentinian Buenos Aires Herald argues that though it appears the plane crash was a mechanical failure, it could still have powerful effects on passenger confidence, and could further damage the airline industry worldwide.

Also reflecting the severe economic anxiety in Argentina, Herald columnist James Neilson warns that the crash of the Argentinian economy -- due, in part, to the economic havoc wrought by September 11 -- could lead to the breakup of the country itself. In addition, Countrywatch.com reports that foreign investment in Chile is falling because of the Argentinian economic crisis.

Defining Terrorism

Latin American papers also focus on ties to terrorism at home. Following the lead of United States Ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, the Colombian government has proposed listing drug traffickers as terrorists. Countrywatch quotes Colombian President Andres Pastrana as saying, "They are the primary financial backers of terrorism and violence in Colombia and other countries, like Afghanistan." Latin News charges the United States with sending mixed messages regarding its foreign policy towards Colombia -- particularly on the topic of drugs and terrorism. Editorializes the publication, "An impression growing in the region's foreign ministries is that the formulation and conduct of Washington's hemispheric foreign policy has become unusually unstable."

Chile is investigating investments that the terrorist group Hezbollah might have in the country, according to Countrywatch.com.

-- By Lindsay Sobel


The Refugee Crisis

Australia's stance on "boat people" -- asylum seekers arriving at the country's shores illegally from the Middle East -- became the dominant, and most divisive, issue in the press in the weeks before Prime Minister John Howard's victory in federal elections last Saturday. With the war on terrorism further destabilizing the Middle East, Howard took a hardline approach, refusing to allow arriving vessels to dock and negotiating arrangements with nearby island nations for the processing of asylum seekers. Opposition leader Kim Beazley concurred, refusing to deviate beyond the details from the current government's plan.

Election post-mortems credit the win largely to the no-entry policy, pointing out that after the Tampa controversy last August -- Howard refused to allow the Norwegian ship carrying mostly Afghani and Iraqi asylum seekers to dock -- the government's sluggish campaign surged five points. Writing in The Age, La Trobe University Professor Robert Manne editorializes, "By supporting every nuance of the government's anti-asylum-seeker policy, Beazley not only alienated large numbers of left-wing supporters but failed to convince voters that, over questions of border control, he was sufficiently hard of heart to be relied on."

While the government's position may have found support among a narrow majority of voters, the media elite is criticizing the campaign for playing to a politics of xenophobia and fear. Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating tells ABC Radio, "The election was won on an appeal to racism . . . [Mr. Howard] now represents the most conservative and reactionary force in Australia."

Meanwhile, The Australian reveals as false a story that one boatload of asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard in a callous attempt to force a rescue by the Australian navy. Howard denied that he and Defense Minister Peter Reith falsified the story; however, The Australian reports that a photograph of children in the water that ran with the story was taken the day after the alleged incident, when the boat was sinking. Political commentator Hugo Kelly, writing in the irreverent political website Crikey, blames his fellow media for allowing themselves to be duped. According to Kelly, "The MV Tampa crisis, and the ongoing refugee issue, has cut right to the heart of how the media is being manipulated -- day by day, in every possible way -- by governments and corporations in Australia. And how the media is allowing this manipulation to happen -- against its own best interests, and against the interests of us all. . . The Australian's good work this week on uncovering the Coalition's 'kids overboard' deceit is an example of how the media should operate -- and all too often, doesn't."

Tony Walker, political editor for the Financial Review, calls Howard's promise to continue current policy "nonsense." Noting that the current practice of rerouting asylum seekers to island nations has failed to deter new arrivals, and is costing taxpayers heaps, Walker writes, "the Government will be obliged to review its policy of dumping unwanted human cargo on impoverished Pacific States because the policy is not working and is unsustainable."

-- By Joanna Mareth