Sunday, July 15, 2007

In Waziristan And Lebanon, Crushing The Vipers

In the Pakistani regions bordering Afghanistan, known as North and South Waziristan, the smashing of the Muslim fanatics occupying the Red Mosque in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad last week has been followed by suicide bombings that have killed almost 100 Pakistani soldiers and security personnel.

It may be the end of the illusory truce that the regime of Pervez Musharraf entered into 10 months ago with Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, under which they pledged that in exchange for being let alone by the Pakistan Army, they would desist from using Pakistani territory to attack across the border against Allied troops in Afghanistan. Like virtually all assurances given by the terrorists, these turned out not to be worth the paper they were printed on. Once Musharraf showed the weakness of seeking peace, the terrorists were only encouraged to step up their attacks, and violence in Afghanistan has reached the highest level since 2001.

Now, Musharraf seems more determined to fight extremism in the border regions as well as the rest of his country. His action against the Red Mosque, the slaying of its leader, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and the ending of the Mosque's harassment against Islamabad civilians, at a cost exceeding 100 lives, seems to have marked a new departure for him, a realization that temporizing with the Muslim fundamentalists is not a workable policy.

But in a week that also saw the U.S. Senate vote 87-1 to raise the reward for the capture or death of Osama bin Laden to $50 million, it is clear that crushing the terrorists in North and South Waziristan will not be child's play. One has to wonder whether the Pakistani army will prove equal to the task.

The stakes are great. Should the terrorists prevail in Pakistan, they could acquire control over that nation's nuclear weapons, confronting the U.S., Europe and India with a terrible crisis, one dwarfing the Iraq war.

The New York Times carries a report in Monday's paper that the U.S. is planning a $750 million economic aid project for the border areas. But it also quotes concerns that the money might only fall into the hands of the terrorists. This would seem to go without saying. Economic aid, without decisive military action first, would seem to make no sense. This is not a matter of "hearts and minds." The enemy must be crushed.

We see, meanwhile, in Lebanon, how what were at first estimated to be just 200 terrorists fighting under the aegis of an Al-Qaeda-lining group known as Fatah al-Islam, in the Nahr-el-Rashid Palestinian refugee camp, has turned out to be a festering rebellion that continues to stymie all attempts of the Lebanese Army and police to stamp out. Talks sponsored by the French government among various Lebanese factions, including Hezbollah, do not include Fatah al-Islam.

For weeks now, the Lebanese authorities have claimed to have, for all intents and purposes, rubbed out Fatah Al-Islam, only to see, during this weekend, the terrorist group fire rounds of Katyusha rockets at nearby villages. The Lebanese Army continues to fire artillery into the refugee camp, but the battle goes on, and the suspicion grows that Syria may be behind and resupplying Fatah Al-Islam, which maybe started out with far more than 200 fighters.

Stamping out all these vipers is no small task. We know how resilient have been the Al Qaeda-dominated insurgents in Iraq. Attempts to bring about peace in Somalia, following the perceived defeat of the Islamic Courts movement there, has been accompanied by continuing incidents, such as today's, when the Islamists fired mortars into a peace conference in an attempt to assassinate the Somalian leadership that is allied with Ethiopia.

Looking around the Middle East and South Asia, from southern Thailand, through the Pakistan border regions, to Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, and even into North Africa, we see a gathering nexus of terrorism that poses a direct danger to Europe and the United States. We have little choice to stomp on the terrorists, wherever they raise their ugly heads. But it is not easy.

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The figures are mind-boggling. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $660 million to 508 victims of child abuse, about $1.3 million per victim, after years of stonewalling by Cardinal Roger Mahony. Now it is high time that Mahony resigns, just as Cardinal Bernard Law did in Boston.

Mahony cannot make any reasonable excuse. Through his inaction, his failure to rein in miscreant priests, he bears direct responsibility for what has happened. He owes everyone an abject apology, and a resignation to allow new blood to take over the nation's largest archdiocese.

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