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World Media This Week

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Osama who? U.S. media may have spent the week fretting over the whereabouts of Bin Laden and the fate of John Walker, but concerns abroad are elsewhere. Argentina's economic and political meltdown dominated headlines from London to Manila, much of the world media bracing for some scary global financial fallout. (Not that foreign media were immune to the fate of John Walker — Pakistan's Peshawar-based Frontier Post, whose op-ed pages are more commonly filled with denunciations of America's campaign in Afghanistan, carried a piece by conservative American columnist Anne Coulter expressing the hope that "the government will deal with California Talibanist John Walker as harshly as it did with Elian Gonzalez.")

Britain: Argentina's agony

For London's Financial Times, the fact that the crisis had been visibly in the making for years acted to contain any international fallout. "Because the crisis has been predictable," wrote columnist Martin Wolf, "there may be minimal contagion to other borrowers." But Argentina's collapse will sway international thinking on currency convertibility and the debt levels that can be sustained by developing countries, and the role of the International Monetary Fund. "Senior officials at the Fund argue that the Fund is caught in a trap. If it refuses to support the government, it will be blamed for the chaos that follows a default. If it agrees to support the government, it will be blamed for any failure. It cannot win." In the short term, however, the country will have to default on its debts and balance its budget, having exhausted its credit. "Once the maximum of politically feasible pain has been imposed on residents, the rest of it must logically be borne by foreign creditors," Wolf writes. But for now Argentina has to find its own way out of the crisis.

Britain's Independent warns that while more pain lies ahead for the Argentines, such pain also breeds the political turmoil seen in recent days. "For that reason it would be better if the IMF did not force (harsh cuts in public spending) on an already weakened body politic immediately, but phased them in as part of a package that rescheduled the debt. Over the past decade or so, agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank have moved towards a more realistic approach to writing off some of the more extravagant debts owed to them, and this has been successful. Something of the same must now be offered to Argentina. But painful change in that country too cannot be long delayed, even if it can be ameliorated."

India, Pakistan: The drums of war

Indian and Pakistani media were dominated by their governments' standoff over last week's terrorist attack on the parliament in New Delhi. The Pakistani Daily Dawn is filled with reports of mounting tension along the borders, Pakistan denying complicity in the attacks and China expressing undying support for Islamabad. But a bold op-ed in the same paper demands that Pakistan extricate itself from all direct involvement in Kashmir and take a strong stand against terrorism there. "A war of national liberation is essentially based on a premise of morality. Random killings of innocents in Kashmir — by our so-called liberation fighters — sullies the moral basis of the Kashmiri struggle," the author suggests. He adds that Pakistani zealots involved in Kashmir are fueling extremism there, much the way as the al-Qaeda elements did to the Taliban.

Ethiopia: Tackling terror in East Africa

If the U.S. does turn its war on terrorism to Somalia, the armed forces of neighboring Ethiopia are slated to be the Northern Alliance-type allied ground force. But the Addis Ababa Tribune laments the fact that Africa is on U.S. radar screens only because of the potential for al-Qaeda to seek refuge there. "America is pursuing its own interests first and lastů," the paper editorializes. "For the foreseeable future the U.S.'s engagement with third world countries will be security-driven. Resources will flow to enhance security relationships at the expense of development assistance. Security alliances will define partnership. We fear that it's back to the bad old days of supporting 'our son-of-a-bitch.' " (A reference to the Cold War rationale for the U.S. backing anticommunist dictators no matter how poor their human rights record.)

Australia, Britain, Iran: Moving on Saddam?

You'd have hardly noticed reading the U.S. media, but more than 20,000 U.S. Marines have recently been moved into Qatar and Kuwait, prompting fevered speculation that the U.S. is about to move against Iraq. Washington insists it is simply rotating troops, but the Sydney Morning Herald notes that only some 4,000 troops have been rotated out. And the Czech Republic let the cat out of the bag by revealing that the 400 soldiers it has committed for the war on terror may be sent to Kuwait. "The deployment of so many troops may be designed to intimidate Saddam Hussein," the paper suggests. But it may also be the prelude to the battle that much of the international community has been dreading.

Even Britain, which has loyally stood by the U.S. throughout its often lonely battle against Iraq, has no appetite for a new Gulf War. Foreign minister Jack Straw, in an interview with the Independent, makes London's skepticism plain: "I have seen no evidence to support any link (between Iraq and the 11 September attacks). On the general issue of military action, it is only ever contemplated on the basis of very good evidence pointing to that necessity and after a very careful conclusion that military action is the only possible option. On that basis, the only theatre in which we are currently involved in military action is Afghanistan."

In contrast, the Tehran Times appears curiously unfazed by the idea, listing the reasons why the U.S. may be tempted to launch an attack right now, including the favorable climate of American public opinion, the winding down of the Afghan campaign and the fact that winter doesn't preclude such a campaign. The Iranian paper simply notes that if such an attack is under consideration, "it will be necessary for the regional countries to coordinate their policies with the White House and make the required arrangements in this regard." (Then again, they fought an eight-year war against Saddam, didn't they?)

Baghdad bodice-ripper

And talking of Iraq, the BBC reports that an anonymous new novel 'The Fortified Castle,' which is drawing rave reviews in the Iraqi media, is in fact the second work of that coy romance novelist Saddam Hussein. His earlier effort 'Zabibah and the King,' about a torrid but noble romance between an embattled monarch and a brave married commoner, is due to be turned into a 20-part TV series. The new one has a war hero falling in love with a Kurdish refugee from Northern Iraq — presumably not one fleeing from his vicious bombing of Mosul.