Monday’s massacre of 35 Sikhs in the disputed Kashmir valley framed Indian coverage of President Clinton’s state visit to the Asian subcontinent. The Deccan Herald speculated that the perpetrators “may have intended bringing the Kashmir question into sharp focus,” particularly when Clinton is in India, and the Times of India said it “brought home … the ugly face of terrorism in Kashmir more starkly than words.” Britain’s Independent called the atrocity “a harsh intrusion into the placid, somewhat lightweight business of a visit that sometimes seems more like one of the Queen’s or Prince Charles’s escapades.”
With no organization taking responsibility for the massacre, Indian police have blamed two Muslim terrorist groups, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called the killings “further evidence of ethnic cleansing.” (Although more than 300,000 Hindus have left Muslim-dominated Kashmir since fighting escalated in 1989, the region’s 80,000 Sikhs have been considered neutral in the dispute between Hindus and Muslims, and this is the first attack on their community.) A spokesman for a Kashmiri Muslim militant group told the Independent that the murders were “carried out by India in an effort to portray freedom fighters as terrorists during Mr. Clinton’s visit.” The Independent concluded, “If Mr Clinton agrees with his Indian hosts as to the identity of the perpetrators of the massacre, he is bound to come down hard on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism during his five-hour stopover in Islamabad on Saturday. This is an outcome greatly desired by Delhi, which is why the grotesque idea that India, home of Sikhdom, was actually behind the killings, cannot be entirely ruled out.”
As Sunday’s Russian presidential election nears, the biggest obstacles to acting President Vladimir Putin’s victory are not his 10 opponents but the “Nyet” campaign and voters who stay home. Putin described the Nyet campaign, which urges voters to select “none of the above,” thus causing a second round of balloting, as “amoral,” in the Moscow Times. (For more on the campaign, see this earlier “International Papers” column.) The election is also invalid if less than 50 percent of the electorate turns out. The Moscow Times pointed out Wednesday that following a slight drop in the polls, there is now some doubt that Putin will secure a sufficient margin in the first round, leading him to make an economic appeal for support. He told a TV audience that a second round of voting would cost the government $36 million—money that should go to the people instead. London’s Guardian said that the field of candidates may be packed with ringers who will ultimately ally themselves with Putin. The paper writes that Putin’s main rival, Gennady Zyuganov, “is running such a lacklustre campaign that observers speculate he is going through the motions in order to confer legitimacy on a Putin triumph.”
In the days following last weekend’s watershed Taiwanese elections, commentators seem surprised at the smooth transition from 55 years of Kuomintang rule. An op-ed in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post declared, “In one short week, Taiwan has been transformed into a pluralistic, multi-party entity that is in many ways the antithesis of the remaining authoritarian regimes in Asia. The gulf between a largely democratic Taiwan and a largely monolithic mainland has widened significantly.” Even the popular protests against KMT party leader and current President Lee Teng-hui were viewed positively: “[I]f most Taiwanese have seen through the new clothes of their own emperor, how much respect will they have for authoritarian figures across the strait?” Despite some isolated incidents of mainland saber-rattling—the SCMP reported that a newspaper “linked to the Chinese military published scary scenarios about how Taiwan could be successfully attacked, including the use of neutron bombs and a few nuclear missiles sent America’s way”—the prevailing mood is one of calm. The Sydney Morning Herald described a “sense of unreality” in the headquarters of election winner Chen Shui-bian’s Democratic Progressive Party as it works out “a way to govern with a team that is inexperienced in politics, let alone government.”
The Guardian reported that Cherie Booth “dropped a broad hint” Monday night that she would like her husband, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “to take a break from running the country” and take a paternity leave after she gives birth in May. Booth, who is a senior barrister specializing in employment law, implied that she hoped Blair would follow the example of Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, who has twice taken parental leave since 1998.