Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The European Press Looks at the Middle East: Britain's Financial Times Predicts India's "Confrontational Approach" to Pakistan

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The European Press Looks at the Middle East: Britain's Financial Times Predicts India's "Confrontational Approach" to Pakistan

Article excerpt

Lucy Jones is a free-lance journalist based in London.

The war of words between India and Pakistan which followed a Dec. 13 suicide bomb attack on the Indian parliament degenerated into outright declarations of war by early January. New Delhi police said they had identified a "clear connection" between the bombers and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence service. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee then said India had reached the limits of its tolerance and was considering "hot pursuit" of the perpetrators, which was interpreted to mean a possible raid into Pakistani territory. In response, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who condemned the attack, said: "India just wants one thing. They want to damage us. Anything they want to do in Afghanistan, the purpose is only one: How to do something which will be used against Pakistan."

This sentiment was echoed in a commentary in Britain's Guardian of Dec. 17. "The war against terrorism," the paper said, "has proved a blessing to governments embroiled in long-running conflicts, especially, though not exclusively, where the rebels are Muslim."

On the same day the Times of London urged the world to focus on the Kashmir situation, noting, "The clear temptation for the American coalition is to treat Afghanistan as entirely separate from terrorism in the Kashmir valley. That is ridiculous."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped into the fray, when he flew to the subcontinent on Jan. 5 for meetings in India and Pakistan. Britain, he said, aimed to have a "pivoting" and "calming" influence on the situation. Within hours of delivering his first speech, however, the leader of the pivotal nation received a public rebuke. India's minister for parliamentary affairs, Pramod Mahajan, attacked Blair for poking about in another country's affairs.

"On the eve of the prime minister's talks with his Indian counterpart, Blair was told in unequivocal terms that India needs no lectures from its former colonial rulers on the need for restraint," reported Britain's Observer on Jan. 6.

Internal pressures on the Indian prime minister are not helping matters, added London's Financial Times the next day. Although Vajpayee is a "peaceable premier" who is aware that the constant bickering between India and Pakistan distracts his country from taking its rightful place as a world power, the newspaper said, "growing disenchantment with Mr. Vajpayee's apparent moderation among his party's core supporters means there is pressure on him to maintain a confrontational approach to Pakistan."

By Jan. 10, the Guardian reported the laying of thousands of anti-personnel mines by the Indian army along the entire length of the country's 1,800-mile border with Pakistan. The operation, the newspaper pointed out, reversed gains made in the past five years by international anti-mine campaigners and threatened further to entrench the confrontation between the subcontinent's two nuclear-armed powers.

U.S. Has Drawn "Few Lessons" From 9/11, Says Le Monde

The fall of Kandahar on Dec. 7 led many newspapers in Europe to ask whether the war in Afghanistan was in fact "over." The Taliban surrender of Kandahar is "a foretaste of the final victory" for the Americans, editorialized France's Le Monde on Dec. 10. It "symbolizes the end of the despised Taliban regime" and gives the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan "a justification which is difficult to question," the newspaper added. "Three months after the attacks," it continued, "they are about to win their war in Afghanistan and have already more than restored their superpower image."

"At this stage everything seems to be going right for the Americans," said a Dec. 10 editorial in Belgium's La Libre Belgique. "America has achieved its first objective in Afghanistan: the elimination of the Taliban regime."

"Their military achievements in Afghanistan should make Americans proud, and the world optimistic," added the UK's Economist on Dec. …

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