Britain: Taking tea with the Taliban
Tales of treachery and travail at Kunduz dominated world headlines late in the week, and Britain's Guardian provided a riveting account of the bizarre negotiations over a Taliban surrender there. According to reporter Luke Harding, the talks between Northern Alliance general Rashid Dostum and Taliban commander Mullah Faizal were held in Dostum's castle near Mazar-i-Sharif, with three uniformed U.S. special forces officers in attendance. "Over cups of tea and biscuits, the terms of the surrender were agreed: all the Afghan fighters trapped in Kunduz would be allowed to go home. The Arabs, however, would be taken to General Dostum's mansion, where they would be sorted out into terrorists and non-terrorists, and then their fate would be decided." Weirdest detail: The Taliban emissary traveled with 600 heavily armed fighters in a 39-vehicle convoy, making many Mazar residents think the hated movement was back in town. The deal was pretty weird, too Harding notes the general's castle is way too small to accommodate all the foreign fighters at Kunduz.
Not to be outdone, Justin Huggler of London's Independent found himself forced to accept the surrender of a Taliban commander from Kunduz. "He could not find anyone to surrender to. So we bundled him and his retinue of defecting Taliban into the back of our rented van and set off to find a local Northern Alliance commander." All hell broke loose when the convoy came under fire from the Taliban, and again when the defector refused to part with his rocket-propelled-grenade launcher in the chaotic clamor of surrendering Taliban and advancing (and retreating) Alliance fighters on the frontline.
Russia: Heroin will keep the Taliban going
[an error occurred while processing this directive]It may be premature to celebrate the Taliban's demise, warns Moscow Times commentator Pavel Felgenhauer. They simply retreated from Afghanistan's cities because they couldn't defend them against U.S. air power, and equally important, because they could no longer ensure food supplies for the civilian population. That responsibility, and the anger that will come if it is not met, now falls to the West, and the Taliban can return to the drug economy, which it had abandoned in the search for legitimacy. "Now the Taliban no longer a government seeking international recognition but an anti-Western guerrilla force can go straight into big business, making millions, if not billions of dollars from the heroin trade. Drug money will support an unending guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-led peacekeeping force and there will be enough left for al-Qaida to run its international terrorist operations. Also, the Taliban now have the "infidels" where they want them not up in the sky, but on the ground in Afghanistan." Felgenhauer's cheerily predicts that Afghanistan will now break down into a "maze of warlord-led tribal fiefdoms" each financed by the drug trade and looting international aid. He foresees the Americans facing the same basic problem as the Russians experienced in Afghanistan: "that they never knew for sure who was their ally and who not."
Qatar: To broadcast or not to broadcast?
Here comes the mother of all dilemmas for the U.S. networks. Qatar's Gulf Times reports that Osama bin Laden has instructed aides to kill him themselves rather than allow his enemies the pleasure, but that he has already recorded a final TV rant to be released after his death. Bin Laden reportedly calls for more attacks on America in his posthumous propaganda pitch, but will U.S. TV networks show it?
India: Talking of Afghanistan's women…
With U.S. media raving about the new freedom of Afghan women now that the Taliban have gone, Indian Express columnist Pamela Philipose offers a sobering corrective. "Its tolerance of music and barbers must not hide the fact that (the Northern Alliance) comprises elements who would argue, like the Taliban do, that a woman's face is the source of all corruption." If those shaping Afghanistan's future are serious about the rights of women, she argues, women must be given an independent voice in the political process.
Middle East peace, perhaps?
Much of the world's media this week was taken up by commentaries on Secretary of State Colin Powell's Monday speech on the peace process. Egypt's official Al Ahram was cautiously optimistic in an editorial, but it also carried a front page analysis predicting problems: "[The Palestinians'] ill-disguised discomfort was due to the concrete demands Powell made on them to bring about [an end to the intifada] compared to the vagueness he wanted from Israel to move to [end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza]." Israeli raids into Palestinian territories and new housing construction in settlements continued even after Powell's speech calling for an end to such practices. "Faced with these realities, Arafat can no more 'stop' the Intifada than roll back the tide with a stick," the paper warned.
Singapore's Straits Times warned that both sides will have to compromise. "Both sides ought to ask themselves now: What can they possibly get in the future that they could not get 16 months ago? Continued Israeli control of the Jordan Valley? Not unless Israel wishes to remain a brutalizing and brutalized colonial power. Full sovereignty over Jerusalem? That is impossible, for Jerusalem belongs to nobody and everybody, and has to be shared. The full legal right for Palestinians to return to the Israel that they left in 1948, in the wake of the first Israeli-Arab war? Does any Palestinian really believe Israelis will accept demographic suicide? These painful recognitions must be accepted, for peace is impossible without compromises." Still, the paper urged Washington to reject Ariel Sharon's insistence that no talks could begin before seven days of calm have passed: "How can the absence of violence be a condition for negotiations, when it is the absence of negotiations that causes the violence in the first place?"
Israel's Jerusalem Post sees the U.S. task as primarily on ending Palestinian attacks. "Monitoring Palestinian implementation of its obligations will continue to be difficult, both with respect to the collection and destruction of the stockpiles of illegal weapons scattered throughout Arafat's domain, and the incarceration of suicide bombers and their handlers." Getting Arafat to put a stop to attacks is "only the beginning," the paper warns. U.S. mediators won't even get to the stage of confidence-building measures unless they can offer a mechanism for verifying the decommissioning of Palestinian weapons. In other words, the Israeli paper is not optimistic.
But the dovish Israeli daily Haaretz suggests Arafat may be coming under pressure from his close aides to abandon the path of confrontation. Privately, Palestinian leaders tell the paper that "it is not clear where Arafat is leading the Palestinian people; he may be leading them to disaster." The experience of the last year proves that Arafat's Palestinian Authority has no means of countering Israel's military might, while Palestinian society is being torn apart and the PA is losing its authority as chaos threatens.
China: Entering the space, uh, race
While the Beijing's People's Daily this week published a lively interview with officials from Al Jezeera they like the station for the very reasons Washington doesn't most of its attention was on China's bid to "fill in a void in [the] nation's space history" by sending a mission to the moon. Someone ought to point out to Beijing that once the U.S. won the "race" to the moon in 1969, the Soviets never sent a manned mission there. (The U.S. didn't send too many more, either, because there wasn't all that much to do there.) Then again, Beijing may be tantalized by the possibility that they can still "beat" their old adversaries, the Russians, to the moon.