Fears of Anarchy Amid Taliban Ruins

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Fears of Anarchy Amid Taliban Ruins

It has been nearly two weeks since the Afghan power sharing agreement was reached in Bonn, Germany, and almost one week since Hamid Karzai, the man designated as Afghanistan's transitional leader, swept back into his native Kandahar. Journalists report decisive steps toward new leadership: American Special Forces entered the city last week, occupying the courtyard of the house belonging to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Mr. Karzai soon followed, establishing his temporary headquarters within the bullet-riddled facade. Yet while Taliban strongholds lie in ruin, Asian journalists are still reacting to the transitional government with caution and concern. Though the gunfire may have diminished, the fear of anarchy has grown stronger. This, after all, is Kandahar -- the seat of Pashtun culture, the atmosphere that gave birth to the Taliban.

In an analysis posted on Afgha.com, an anonymous editorialist describes the newly liberated Kandahar as a city of fiefdoms divided by rival Pashtun commanders. With Gul Agha Sherzai, a former governor of the city, in control of the Governor's House and city hall, Mula Naqibullah, a local influential, controlling major military installations in the north of the city, and Haji Bashar, another prominent local, in command of the police and city security, factional clashes have occurred -- separate from the battles waged against the remaining armed Taliban. "If the Pashtuns of Afghanistan want their claims to being adequately represented in the new government to be taken seriously, they will have to demonstrate unity, cohesion, and maturity. . ." the editorial stated. "The track record of these mujahideen organizations in coming to grips with their country's needs at various critical junctures does not inspire confidence."

An Indian journalist, Prem Shankar Jha, feels the decision in Bonn was premature. Though he believes it "has produced as good a result as anyone could have hoped for," he worries that the interim Afghan administration will not hold the monopoly on power. "Karzai, buttressed by Zahir Shah's backing, has the authority; the Northern Alliance has the power," a diarchy he describes as extremely volatile. "Power equations cannot be thrust upon a nation from the outside but must develop from within. . .The UN should have waited till the fighting ended."

Indeed, on the same day the peace agreement was signed in Bonn, Hamid Karzai suffered a slight injury in an errant bomb attack by the U.S. military near Kandahar, an editorial in The Japan Times points out. His narrow escape was a powerful symbol of the differing aims of the U.S. and the new administration. While the interim government's priority will be to end the fighting and restore order, America's priority remains the elimination of the Taliban, terrorism, and Osama bin Laden. These first unsteady days of "peace" highlight the fragile foundations of the interim administration. "It will need immense support from the international community."

The Next Phase of War

An editorial in The Far Eastern Economic Review urges the U.S. to pay more attention to the next stage of the war: the battles of public opinion. "Moderate Muslim nations supporting the United States-led campaign need to be able to assure their people that this is no war against Muslims. If Washington fails to handle this prudently, it risks destabilizing friendly Muslim regimes, as well as breeding resentment down in the kasbah." To accomplish this, the writers propose the West include non-Muslim threats, including terrorists in North Korea and Colombia, in its war against terrorism.

In The Kashmir Observer Moonis Ahmar also writes of the next phase of the war, describing this era as "the most critical phase in human history." Though he states that the Muslim moment of truth has arrived as a result of discriminatory policies from the Western world, he also warns Muslims that, "if they continue to be highjacked by the vested interests of fanatic, terrorist, and extremist elements then their future is bleak and doomed. . .The only way wise Muslims can deal with such a situation is by liberating the Muslim world from those so-called custodians of Islam who are uneducated, fanatics and devoid of basic decency."

Priming for the Wider Struggle

The recent escalation in violence between Palestine and Israel is no coincidence, writes Syed Saleem Shahzad of The Asia Times. According to intelligence sources, it is just another aspect of Osama Bin Laden's overall "plan to polarize the entire Muslim world against the Judeo-Christian world." Hamas, an organization that shares many of its members with Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, has claimed responsibility for the recent wave of terror in Israel. According to the article, sources say Al-Qaeda is just waiting for the "right spark to set off wider attacks in other regions while the U.S. and its allies are preoccupied with the war in Afghanistan and the merits of a possible attack on Iraq."

According to a column by Gwynne Dyer in The Japan Times, the Jerusalem attacks benefit extremists on both sides of the conflict. By killing 25 people in Jerusalem and Haifa last week, Hamas also destroyed any remaining chance of a compromise peace settlement. The extremists don't want such a peace, so they are satisfied. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seized the opportunity to declare Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, as Dyer writes, "an enemy with whom Israel could no longer do business." Yet no Palestinian believes that Arafat is behind the attacks, so Hamas gets full credit -- another step on the path to eclipsing Arafat. In addition, Hamas creates such a hostile image of Palestinians among the American public that the Bush administration now finds it politically impossible to put pressure on the Israelis to make a deal.

-- By Cara Feinberg

Middle East

With the Middle East still reeling from the suicide bombing early last week and new attacks yesterday, nearly all of the papers continue to sling around harsh accusations and vet their "us" versus "them" mentality regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although most papers condemn the suicide attacks and call for a halt to the cycle of violence, they continue to point fingers rather than propose solutions. Not one paper predicts happy times to come, much less a successful peace "process." Critics pounce on every aspect of the news, from the media coverage of the conflict, to the swinging tide of public opinion, to the potential expansion of the U.S. war on terror.

A Few Words About The Same Old, Same Old

Israeli English daily paper Ha'aretz editorializes against Israeli intrusion into the structure of the Palestinian leadership, including the governance of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. "Hopefully," the article reasons, "Prime Minister Sharon is not under the impression that by intervening in the PA's leadership he will get an easier partner for dialogue with Israel."

Yet according to Cairo weekly Al-Ahram's columnist Ibrahim Nafie, Sharon does not want to engage in any dialogue with the Palestinian people. Claiming Sharon's true agenda is a war with Palestinians, Nafie argues that recent terror in the Middle East gives Prime Minister Sharon what he has always wanted -- a "Green Light to Terror:"

The Israeli Prime Minister has no programme for reaching a political solution. What he has is a military programme, the use of excessive force to suppress the Infitada and impose his conditions on the Palestinian people. Sharon's greatest fear is that the seven days of calm he demands will become a reality. . .It is Sharon who needs violence in the Palestinian territories to justify bringing the Palestinians to their knees.

Looking in from the Outside

Also in Al-Ahram, Mohamed Sid-Ahmed weighs in on the potential expansion into Iraq of the war on terror. Not only would a war on Iraq erode international support for the U.S. anti-terror program by threatening the Arab backing America has carefully worked for. He argues it would hurt efforts to ease tensions between Palestinians and Israelis too, and would be a much more difficult fight. Writes Sid-Ahmed:

While it may be true that Arab leaders regard Saddam Hussein as a liability and would secretly like to see him ousted, it is also true that public opinion in the Arab world would not allow them to back an American military strike against him, especially that there is no clear evidence linking Baghdad to the events of 11 September or the subsequent anthrax attacks. . .It is hard to see how Washington can reconcile a commitment to the new peace initiative announced by Colin Powell last week with embarking on a new war in the region that could expose it to yet further destabilisation.

In The Jerusalem Post, however, Efraim Inbar pushes for expanding the war on terror into Iraq. Israel would support such action because "Iraq's Saddam Hussein is a greater danger to the West and Israel than bin Laden and deserves to be treated accordingly." However, moving the campaign into Iraq is not all Inbar has in mind. The "extension of the American efforts to Iraq, Iran, Syria -- all states supporting terrorism -- might create a more benign environment for Western interests and for Israel." And get rid of all of Israel's enemies?

Israeli Response

In the Ha'aretz Week's End section, Sharon Sadeh criticizes the BBC's coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- identifying clear bias in favor of the Palestinian side. "The BBC, it appears, is not cut from a single piece of cloth," writes Sadeh. "In contrast to CNN, which also operates an international broadcasting network but refrains from philological hair-splitting, the British cover international events in different ways for different audiences." The complaints against BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Israelis and Jews are mounting, according to Sadeh's article, because the BBC "depicts Israel in a programmatic way as an aggressive and belligerent country."

John V. Whitbeck writes for the Jordan Times about the meaning of the word terrorism. Terrorism, according to Whitbeck's analysis, is a word applied ("at least in the West") to "tactics of the weak. . .against the strong." This is a faulty application of the word, however, because such "acts are not a tactic of choice but of last resort." If they could, for example, Palestinians would certainly choose higher technologies than suicide bombers to do their freedom fighting. With "the United States relying on the word to assert, apparently, an absolute right to attack any country it dislikes. . .many people around the world must feel a genuine sense of terror (dictionary definition: 'a state of intense fear') as to where the United States is taking the rest of the world." Whitbeck's solution? Use the only honest and globally workable definition of terrorism -- "'violence which I don't support.'"

Also in the Jerusalem Post, David Kimche adds that the recent wave of Palestinian violence has nearly silenced critics wary of Israel's more hawkish strategies. "The result," says Kimche, "has been an unprecedented castigation of the Palestinians, with a concomitant sympathy for Israel's position."

…And a Bit of Mirthless Humor

Rogel Alpher draws a harsh picture of the media's behavior during the post-September 11 months in a Ha'aretz humor piece drafting rules for journalists in the event of one's untimely death by terrorist attack.

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read


Eyes on the Middle East

European journalists are mezmerized by the subject of the exploding violence in the Middle East -- a story that is developing even at this writing. The British Economist's cover reads, "Adieu, Arafat?" The piece mulls the possibility that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is trying to weaken PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, warning that the end of Arafat could mean an even worse future than the bleak present for all parties.

The Guardian's Paul Foot chastises Prime Minister Tony Blair for his Middle East stance. "The prime minister's sudden conversion to the case for a viable independent Palestine came as a welcome shock," he writes. However, "[a]fter the recent suicide bombings in Israel, official British rhetoric has slipped back into the same old rut of 'even-handedness.'"

Battles Over Civil Liberties

As the branches of the British government duel it out over far-reaching anti-terrorism legislation, the country's journalists worry about the future of civil liberties. Writes The Independent's Conrad Russell:

Nothing does more to breed terrorism than the closing of the normal political and legal channels, and injustice against which there is no legal remedy is perhaps the biggest present we can offer to any terrorist organisation.

And The Guardian's Hugo Young chimes in with the concern that British home secretary David Blunkett -- of the liberal Labour Party -- has too much in common with the United States' arch-conservative Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Ashcroft and Blunkett have in common, first, the tampering with due process," he argues, bemoaning British and American curtailment of civil liberties. But Young charges that Blunkett's position is even more untenable than Ashcroft's because Great Britain hasn't even been the target of the recent terrorist attacks. Young concludes, "The hard rightist and once-soft old labourist are fellow spirits, hungry for power in the name of a security that piously throws to the jailers the freedom it's supposed to be defending."

Beware Your Allies

British journalists have additional criticisms for their nation's ally, the United States. The Independent editorializes that President Bush looks better now than anyone could have imagined just a few months ago, but warns that he could throw his good standing away:

[T]he apparent willingness to embark on new military adventures in Somalia and in Iraq suggests that some in the White House and the State Department have lost the plot. It would be tragic if President Bush were now to squander his deserved political gains by launching a series of unwinnable wars.

And The Observer's Will Hutton admonishes Europeans not to buckle under United States pressure to radically expand the European Union because, "enlargement threatens to make the EU ungovernable." What is the biggest danger of an ungovernable EU? Hutton writes, "The demonstration of the U.S.'s technological military superiority in winning a stunning victory in Afghanistan has made the American Right never more confident about the unilateral use of its power." So it is ever more important for the EU to provide a "countervailing power bloc" to prevent "a new era of complete American domination." Argues Hutton:

Europe must find a way to defer enlargement until it is capable of assimilating the new members properly. Otherwise we might as well give up on the European dream and prepare to live in a world run by the American Right.

The Other Terrorists

European papers also ponder the effects of the war on terrorism on peripheral groups alleged to be terrorists, predicting the crackdown will aid peace efforts in some cases but harm it in others. Those countries in which journalists tentatively predict the war on terror may help bring peace are Colombia and Sri Lanka. According to The Economist, Colombia's FARC guerrillas, who are on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, are "starting to feel the consequences" of the war on terror. "Some believe that the changed international climate will persuade the FARC to negotiate seriously," notes The Economist. "But pessimists say that the FARC has never taken much notice of the outside world, and neither have its paramilitary opponents."

Now that Sri Lankans have elected a government that is more inclined to negotiate with the country's Tamil Tigers -- the separatist minority group that lives in Sri Lanka's north and east -- The Economist predicts a possible breakthrough. The paper argues that the Tigers may be more willing to negotiate because of the chilled international attitudes towards groups labeled as terrorists.

Meanwhile, Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine charges that China may spur increased terrorism if it comes down too harshly on the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region. "It is not difficult to understand Beijing's efforts to stop [Uyghur] terrorists," writes the paper's Wolfgang Günter Lerch. "What cannot be endorsed, however, is the systematic attempt by the government to constrain the cultural development of the Muslim Turkic people in the Xinjiang [Uyghur] Autonomous Region and to marginalize it with resettlement programs." And furthermore, "oppression by a dominant group will provide an excuse to those pursuing radical ends to employ terrorism as a justified means."

-- Lindsay Sobel

The Americas

Your Money or Your Life? The Price is Not Right

In the Americas, many op-ed pages are spread thick with reactions to the economic forecast post-September 11. Canadian pundits are tossing back and forth predictions regarding a bilateral U.S.-Canada response to the terrorist attacks which has sped-up the integration of U.S. and Canadian military, security, and financial resources. In Latin America, reflecting on the past three months of changes resulting in what many have dubbed the "post-September 11 world order," articles comment on the many impending crises, both economic and political, shifted to the back burner as the developed world continues prioritizing security and fighting terrorists. The consequences for Latin American countries may be enormous, forcing economies into recession and governments out of office, leaving the door open for chaos. Basically, the future painted by this week's columnists in the Central and Southern Americas ain't a pretty sight.

Naomi Klein ponders Canada's spending decisions in the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail. Klein argues that the rising cost of border control, driven upwards by changes at the U.S.-Canada border since September 11, is the inevitable price of "protecting our $700-billion annual trade relationship with the United States." Canada's budget surplus will be used only rhetorically to protect security, says Klein. The reality is that it "will be used to make trade more secure, to 'keep our borders open'." Thus Klein points out the irony many Canadians are noticing in recent budget decisions:

Free trade was supposed to lower the costs of moving goods across borders, thereby encouraging new investment. Now we have become so dependent on trade (and the U.S. has become so mistrustful of our ability to police ourselves) that we are spending hundreds of millions of new dollars just to keeping the trade flowing. . .

Jeffrey Simpson, also writing in The Globe and Mail, reports that the terrorist attacks have resulted in new forms of taxation, such as new airplane taxes imposed by the Canadian government that Simpson dubs the "Osama tax." The official title of the new travel tax in Canada is the "air travelers security charge," costs $12 each way, and will raise $445 million in revenues each year for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's government. "Open skies between the two countries," Simpson jokes, "has become open sesame on air travelers' wallets." But he points out that this new air travel tax is only one of many new spending initiatives directly related to the September attacks shrinking Canadian wallets. New monies are needed to upgrade intelligence, emergency preparedness, and policing efforts, tighten security measures in border areas, and expand screening of immigrants, not to mention aid the war on terror campaign, aid humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, and help minimize Canadian airline losses.

Joseph Contreras discusses on MSNBC.com how September 11 ruined Bush's promise to make Latin America a central focus of his foreign policy. President Bush began his tenure in office by breaking with tradition: visiting Mexico rather than Canada on his first trip abroad. The tragedies of September 11, however, "banished [Latin America] back to the wings of the world stage." The inattention, Contreras argues, could not hit the region at a more inopportune moment, with economic and political crisis threatening to topple more than one regime. He wonders how far Latin American people will have to fall before the U.S. notices the impact of its neglect.

On the Other Hand, Money Is Not Everything

On a more upbeat note, Ariel Dorfman contributes a moving piece [in Spanish] in the Mexican magazine Processo, exploring how the September 11 attacks spread the experience of so many in the developing world into the world of privilege. Dorfman shows that the compounded suffering of relatives of the "disappeared" -- the losing of a loved one whose whereabouts are unknown and whose body cannot be buried -- is an experience without borders. Hopes shattered in a moment, millions of dreams evaporated into thin air; such events have historical precedent in Argentina, in Ethiopia, in Cambodia, even in Afghanistan. It may be, according to Dorfman, that sharing these fundamental experiences of death and of vulnerability pushes the global agenda more forcefully than any economic agreements, creating an antidote of global compassion to the global terror currently being waged.

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read