International Papers

Holiday in Afghanistan

Who says Indians and Pakistanis can’t agree on anything? Newspapers in both countries call the Indian government’s response to the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 “bungled and botched” (the Hindu of Madras) and a “startling muddle” ( Dawn of Pakistan). The Indian Express said that “a nation of one billion … has become a sitting duck for the masked man with the hand grenade or the AK-47.”

The Times of India firmly opposed making a deal with the hijackers: “[N]ot just the safety of 160 hostages but the future vulnerability of this country to terrorism” ride on the government’s negotiating strategy. “In Italy, an ex-prime minister, Aldo Moro, was not exchanged for terrorists and his killing by the Red Brigades turned the tide against terrorism in that country,” it concluded. An op-ed by Indian journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in the International Herald Tribune highlighted India’s dilemma: “India has to walk a delicate path between capitulation to the hijackers and appearing callous about the hostages. Even if it had Israel’s capability to mount an Entebbe-style commando rescue, a bristly Pakistan would refuse overflight permission. The Taleban government in Afghanistan, which India does not recognize, would also oppose any such Indian operation.”

Looking to Afghanistan, where the hostages are being held on an airstrip, an editorial in the Hindu concluded, “If the Taliban wants to end its international isolation and move towards a partial lifting of sanctions, it must be seen playing a positive role in bringing this negotiation on its home turf to a successful conclusion.” In a story headlined “Taliban’s image getting a shine,” the London Times pointed out that “the Taliban have negotiated with the hijackers, provided food and water to the passengers and welcomed representatives of several governments–none of which recognize the Taliban.”

Dawn denounced India’s reaction to the hijacking, charging that the Indian media and government are too busy demonizing Pakistan to focus on the causes and remedy of the crisis.

In Britain, a leader in the Times said that the “bungling” of Indian and Pakistani officials is “a potent reminder of the dangers of the Cold War-style conflict dividing South Asia.” Whereas, the Times speculated, a sensible response to the hijacking might have been “to pool regional forces in anti-terrorist measures which might either negotiate with the hijackers or flush them out of the plane by force,” since India has “frayed diplomatic ties with Pakistan and none with the internationally shunned Taleban régime … channels for coordinated action … did not exist.”

Coverage of Alfonso Portillo’s landslide victory in Sunday’s runoff to Guatemala’s general election seldom failed to mention the positive impact of Portillo’s confession earlier this year that in 1982 he killed two rivals for the deanship of the Mexican law school where he was teaching. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Portillo was running a poor second to his rival Óscar Berger of incumbent President Álvaro Arzú’s party, before his admission. After it, “his campaign took off and he never looked back.” Spain’s El País said that Portillo promised Guatemalans “everything they wanted to hear … that he wouldn’t govern for the privileged, that he would combat misery and violence, that he would recognize the rights of the large Mayan population, and that he would be firm with the military … and turn the judicial system upside down.”

President Alberto Fujimori of Peru announced Sunday that since the Peruvian Constitution was amended while he was in office, he has technically served only one term and is thus not subject to its two-term limit. La República of Lima greeted his announcement as “a new coup d’etat.” An editorial in the paper said that “Fujimori has described himself as the savior of the Fatherland, sole guarantor of stability, guardian of the future, and restorer of optimism. … Other than his self-description as an irreplaceable figure, the re-election candidate offers nothing new.” A union official quoted in Lima’s El Comercio said, “Fujimori hasn’t told the country how he plans to solve the unemployment problem, or the recession, or how to increase non-traditional exports. The most worrying thing is that he hasn’t shown how he’s going to free Peru from stagnation.”

The London Times announced Tuesday that “the historic status of Greenwich as the home of time” will be guaranteed by a plan to make it “the global timekeeper for the Internet.” Ignoring an existing campaign by watchmaker Swatch to divide the Internet day into 1,000 “beats” of one minute 26.4 seconds, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and “e-Minister” Patricia Hewitt are set to announce the creation of Greenwich Electronic Time–GeT–as the international standard clock for Internet traders and users. A spokesman for the U.S. Electronic Retailing Association told the Times, “It could have an advantage for consumers and vendors. Take, for example, a money-back guarantee. The time could vary by several hours, depending on the point of purchase. Being able to have an agreed-upon time could serve as good business practice.”