Karzai is untouchable despite his hard line

The West has been helplessly watching the Afghan president Hamid Karzai pummel the United States and Nato allies, commented Mazen Hammad in Al Watan.

The West has been helplessly watching the Afghan president Hamid Karzai pummel the United States and Nato allies, knowing that any attempt to bring him under control or punish him will directly affect western interests in the region, commented Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan. The situation may get worse now that Mr Karzai is inching closer to Iran and China, whose interests differ widely from those of the West. "Worse still, the Afghan president has been rather sympathetic lately to the Taliban and appreciative of their efforts," the writer said.

Tensions between western powers and Mr Karzai first came to light when the latter accused the West, along with the United Nations, of rigging the Afghan presidential elections last August. Parliamentary sources claim Mr Karzai has gone as far as to vow to join the Taliban if the West keeps clamping down on him. Afghan observers say that, in this context, there are three options before the US and its allies: use diplomacy, expand citizen access to decision-making positions in government or threaten to pull out. But none of these would work. "The bottom line is Mr Karzai is Afghanistan's elected president, and nothing can be done about him until the end of his term, five years from now," the writer concluded.

Inspired by a picture of Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, on a recent visit to the site of the Aral Sea's shrinking disaster area, Ali Ibrahim, a columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat, said the urgency and the ramifications of desertification and drought in Middle Asia must be duly addressed.

Generally, drought is a result of human activity, such as in Uzbekistan, where the building of dams and the rerouting of waterways for agricultural purposes caused water levels to decrease by as much as 90 per cent. In another case, China is blamed for the decrease of water levels in the Mekong River. This is a matter of colossal importance, notably for the Middle East, as the scarcity of water resources threatens to unleash a tangle of complex conflicts in the future. It is essential, therefore, that it be moved higher up the agenda of international politics.

The history of Middle Asia has been marked by decades of controversy and disputes over water. In various parts of the world, water is becoming such a precious commodity that countries like Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt are prone to eventual "water wars". Now, the only foreseeable solution to this plight lies in mutual co-operation among concerned countries to try and develop sustainable solutions that will be less costly than war.

In a comment piece for the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan, Tawfiq al Madani, a Tunisian columnist, wrote that more than one year into the US president Barack Obama's term in office, a wave of discontent seems to be casting its shadow over US-European relations.  European countries are accusing Washington of explicit neglect, an attitude accentuated by Obama's refusal to participate in the European-American summit in Spain next month. However, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Washington last month was an indicator that some warmth may be creeping back into the rapport between the ambitious French president and the sedate commander-in-chief.

The two politicians discussed an array of issues, starting with the Iranian nuclear programme and the need for imposing stricter sanctions on Iran. Their positions concurred concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its repercussions on the US-Israeli alliance, and they appeared to see eye to eye on the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa and other hotspots. Of course, their opinions do not overlap on all issues. On the Afghan front, France still refuses to send additional troops to the country, while Washington criticises Paris for denying Turkey membership to the European Union and for selling the Mistral warship to Russia. But, all in all, the ice seems to be thawing between the two coasts of the Atlantic.

"Muslims are lagging behind in making Islam's message of tolerance known to other peoples of the world," said Abdulaziz Usman al Tueiji, general manager of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO), in an opinion article for the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.  Western communities have very little knowledge of Islam's true cultural message. Public opinion in these communities isn't forged only by the media, as prolific as it is. It is rather influenced by studies and research carried out in universities and think tanks. Therefore, the literature that is available to western readers surely affects their attitudes and points of view.

The 9/11 attacks ushered in an unprecedented interest in all matters related to Islam and the Arab world. However, such an interest wasn't matched by literature that would shape a more positive opinion of these parts of the world. Therefore, it is a matter of urgency that objective books be written and made available for readers and researchers all over the world. It is the responsibility of Arab authors to create a cultural equilibrium to counter the kind of opposing literature that is solely directed at discrediting Arab culture and the Muslim faith.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem rmakarem@thenational.ae