International Papers

A Cooling off in Kashmir

The Guardian of London claimed Monday that an ecological catastrophe “far worse” than the Exxon Valdez accident 10 years ago could happen in Alaska “at any moment.” Six “senior employees” of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System wrote to Sir John Browne, the chief executive of BP Amoco, and to three U.S. congressmen, warning of an imminent threat to human life and the Alaskan environment from irresponsible oil operations there, the paper said in its main front-page story. BP Amoco owns 50 percent of Alyeska, the company that operates both the pipeline and the Valdez oil terminal near where the huge tanker Exxon Valdez crashed on a reef in 1989, spewing millions of gallons of heavy crude into Prince William Sound. (Alyeska’s other biggest shareholders are Exxon and Arco.) The unnamed whistle-blowers included evidence in their letter of compliance failures, falsified safety and inspection records, intimidation of workers, and persistent violations of procedures and government regulations, the Guardian reported. Top Alyeska executives allegedly instructed middle managers to “disregard and/or circumvent” compliance manuals and codes of conduct and to “tone down, alter or delete negative reports, including internal audits and surveillance reports.”

While Indian newspapers reported Monday that Pakistani-backed Muslim guerrillas have started pulling out of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir–a development described by the Hindu as “a dramatic victory” for India and a “total military rout” for Pakistan–the Pakistani daily Dawn led Monday on planned protests by Islamic militants against the withdrawal. As Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prepared to defend the withdrawl in a national broadcast, the paper said several mujahideen groups and the opposition Jamaat-i-Islami Party announced that anti-government demonstrations would be held in the Punjabi capital Lahore and in the port city of Karachi. Sharif is planning to argue that the withdrawal is justified by his winning unprecedented U.S. backing for new Indo-Pakistani talks to end the 52-year-old deadlock over Kashmir. But Dawn said that “persistent Indian rejection of anything it sees as third-party mediation might undermine his assertion that President Bill Clinton’s pledge to take a personal interest in the row might yield progress.”

Indeed, the Hindu reiterated Monday in an editorial that India must resist third-party intervention. “The country must move to put bilateral relations back on the rails–and obviate the need for third parties,” it said. “There is no alternative but to seriously engage in bilateral discussions with Islamabad.” In another Indian editorial, the Times of India said that while “Pakistan’s fifth attempt at aggression against India” has ended, like all previous ones, “in ignominious defeat,” its leaders are “in the process of trying to proclaim victory once again.” To counter this, India should compile a detailed list of the Pakistani soldiers killed in the fighting and publish it in the media and on the Internet. The people of Pakistan must realize the extent of Pakistani casualties in the conflict, it said. To sustain the myth that only unsupported mujahideen guerrillas were involved, “Pakistani officers and soldiers killed in combat have been disowned by their generals, their services unacknowledged; even a decent burial has been denied them,” the paper said. “A nation which repudiates its war dead will have little credibility among its own people.”

Dawn’s editorial Monday was devoted not to the Kashmir crisis but to the safer subject of the Arab-Israeli peace process. It expressed misgivings about a statement in Cairo by new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that he wanted to modify parts of the Wye agreement. His predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu has done “incalculable damage to the peace process” by throwing Israel’s commitment to international treaties into doubt, the paper said. “Now it is Mr Barak’s duty to correct that image and prove to the world that agreements signed by a previous Israeli government are not considered mere scraps of paper by a succeeding Israeli administration and that every Israeli government has the duty and international obligation to honor treaties signed by its predecessors.”

The Israeli press, by contrast, was generally upbeat about peace prospects following Sunday’s meeting between Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who referred to him afterward as his “friend and partner.” Ha’aretz reported that discussions on the Wye agreement would begin in about 10 days’ time, after Barak has visited President Clinton in Washington. Quoting diplomatic sources, the paper said Barak would present Clinton with a detailed negotiating plan that includes a Middle East tour by Madeleine Albright during the first week in August. The plan would culminate at the end of the year in a Barak-Clinton-Arafat summit to declare an “agreed framework for the permanent settlement” or, failing that, a declaration of principles outlining the steps toward a settlement. In an editorial, Ha’aretz urged Barak to help to create a new atmosphere of trust by unilaterally dismantling the outposts illegally established by Israelis on hilltops outside existing West Bank settlements in “a wild, catch-as-catch-can land grab” during the run-up to the Wye agreement.

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung led its front page Monday with the wave of student demonstrations in Tehran, Iran, which were also prominently reported in many other leading European newspapers. An analysis in the Financial Times of London said that the protests reflect mounting frustration among Iran’s students and many ordinary citizens at the lack of progress in implementing President Mohammed Khatami’s reforms because of opposition by the conservative clerical authorities. It noted the disproportionate influence of Iran’s 1 million university students in a country of some 62 million where more than 60 percent are under 25 years old. The paper claimed that while popular indignation with the conservative clerical authorities was running high, support for Khatami remained solid.

Both the Straits Times of Sinapore and the Guardian of London ran editorials Monday urging the United States to be more sensitive toward Russia or risk another Cold War. “Russia means to be taken seriously, and the US owes it that respect,” the Straits Times said. “American cockiness over its display of military technology in the Gulf and Yugoslavia, and smugness over its longest post-war prosperity streak, can blind it to a need to cultivate its relations with Russia beyond promoting democratisation. Russians cannot eat democracy. The US should snap out of its hubris over Kosovo–or the world could become very dark indeed if Russian hurt turns to mischief-making.” The Guardian said that “Russia’s anger over NATO’s recent actions in the Balkans is in many ways justified and since it is not understood, is the more likely to have broad, negative consequences for the West’s dealings with Boris Yeltsin and, more particularly, his successors.”