International Papers

The Dangers of Premature Triumphalism

Is the war in Afghanistan almost over? The papers seem to think so. The Age  of Melbourne declared that the end of the war was coming “more swiftly than even the most optimistic Pentagon strategist could have expected when it began.” The editorial said the U.S. achievement was not just a military victory but also a triumph for democracy. The Taliban never established a civil society and held onto power “only through the most brutal forms of coercion. … [T]heir particular form of political Islam never won the hearts of a majority of the Afghan people. … The fate of the Taliban is one more instance of a truth that dictatorial regimes are notoriously slow to learn: political power built on force alone rapidly collapses in the face of greater force.”

The Financial Times praised the United States for conducting a “nasty and brutal but mercifully short” campaign but worried that the Bush administration “may succumb to overconfidence” and pursue other targets in the Philippines, Somalia, Yemen, or Iraq. Britain’s Independent shared that concern, observing: “One reason why triumphalism about the fall of the Taliban should be eschewed is because the US and its allies have shown insufficient regret and sadness at the deaths of Afghan villagers. This has allowed the propagandists of Islamic nihilism to claim that the US cares about the deaths of civilians in New York but not in Afghanistan.” What’s more, the main objective in striking against Afghanistan—making the West “safe from suicidal Islamic terrorism—is still a long way from being fulfilled.”

The News Internationalof Pakistan attacked the United States for the way it conducted the war, which it said “will long be remembered as one of the nastiest for the loss of lives, destruction and the extreme misery caused by all its constituents.” It continued: “Everything about the conflict was tailor made for ensuring a safe, neat conflict. The high flying aircraft, smart weapons, absence of monitors to prevent violation of war conventions, acquiescent neighbouring states, and the ringing approval of the world community for the mayhem.” The editorial predicted, “[I]n months ahead, Afghans in the ‘liberated’ areas, will in moments of nostalgia say a word of praise for the security the Taliban provided.”

Spain’s El Mundowas cautiously optimistic about the power-sharing agreement reached in Bonn last week, declaring, “[It] promises to be an obstacle course, but at least the principle anti-Taliban groups are committed to participating.” A multiethnic, broad-based interim administration is due to take office Dec. 22. After six months, former King Zahir Shah will call a loya jirga—a traditional tribal assembly—that will appoint a transitional government to rule for 18 months, during which time a new constitution will be drawn up and new elections organized. The most frequently cited concern about the viability of the Bonn agreement is the likelihood that ethnic and regional rivalries will reassert themselves. The Northern Alliance, composed mostly of Uzbek and Tajik minorities, gained 18 of the 30 seats in the interim administration, and the three most important positions—the defense, interior, and foreign ministries—went to Tajik Northern Alliance members. The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan told the Financial Times, “No ethnic group is happy because there are no precise statistics and every ethnic group thinks that they are much more numerous than everybody else thinks. That is why they have asked the United Nations to do a census as soon as possible.”

An op-ed in the News International noted that although the chairmanship and 11 Cabinet seats went to Pashtuns (other sources put the number at eight), the Pashtun ministers were from the Rome group, exiles associated with the former king, rather than the Peshawar group, who have “been living in Pakhtoon areas and experiencing the turmoil of Afghanistan during the last 22 years.” Citing three previous failed power-sharing agreements, the op-ed concluded, “Given Afghan’s past record especially during the last three decades, it is indeed difficult to expect smooth sailing from interim administration to transitional authority to elected government.”

The Nationof Pakistan said the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar is now in “chaos” and worried that it would remain in that state since Hamid Karzai, the head of the interim administration, “has no army of his own … and the army he will inherit is going to be of Northern Alliance which would be difficult to deploy in a mainly Pashtun belt without provoking a Pashtun versus the rest conflict.” The paper thought it unlikely that there will be time to establish a “multiethnic army which would command respect” in the next six months. Meanwhile, an op-ed in India’s Hindu described Karzai’s biggest problem as “the disgruntled Taliban cadres” who have “melted away into the crowds.”

Spain’s El Paíswas pleased that two women have seats in the new Cabinet but called on the international community to keep the rights of Afghan women at the forefront of the peace process: “No one is trying to impose on Afghanistan gender quotas that don’t exist in more developed Western countries. But it is clear that the presence of a small group of women in the new Afghan administration is not going to be enough to guarantee the immediate recognition of [women’s] civil rights and especially their right to vote.”

The reason for no treason: While the Jordan Times recommended counseling for Jordanians who had fought with the Taliban—an editorial said as long as they weren’t suspected of terrorism or atrocities, they should be “deprogrammed and rehabilitated and then be allowed to reunite with their families and return to society”—Mark Steyn took a more hard-hearted attitude to American Taliban John Walker. Writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, Steyn said Walker shouldn’t be tried for treason (“high-rent lawyers are already salivating over the possibility of a two-year circus with attendant book deals and TV movies”); instead he should be stripped of his U.S. citizenship:

Mr Walker wants to be Abdul Hamid: Mr Bush should honour his wishes. Let us leave him to the Northern Alliance and let his San Francisco fancypants lawyers petition to appear before the Kabul bar, if there is one. It would, surely, be grossly discriminatory to subject Mr Hamid to non-Islamic justice.