All politics is local

International | The United States has been watching Afghanistan, but hot spots elsewhere deserve a squint

Issue: "Fighting words," Jan. 12, 2002

It took mathematicians and computers more than a century to come up with an equation proving that only four colors are needed to mark countries on a world map where bordering countries never have the same color. It took President George Bush mere days to offer a new theorem. In the post-9/11 world, mapmakers need only black and white: "You are either for us or against us," the president said.

Tracing out that sort of dichromatic scheme does not make it reality on the ground. The events of Sept. 11 changed everything on the world stage, but in the streets it is sometimes a different story. The battle for Macedonia and AIDS in Africa did not go away that Tuesday; we just quit talking about them. For many nations the new line in the sand failed to rub out the old order. For them, ethnic strife, religious persecution, civil war, poverty, and corruption cloud which side of the terrorism war they are really on.

An old struggle gained new attention in Afghanistan's neighbors Pakistan and India. India claims Pakistan is behind an attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13 that killed 14. In response, the Hindu-led government of Atal Behari Vajpayee is mounting the largest mobilization of troops along its 1,100-mile border with Pakistan since it fought the Muslim-dominated country 30 years ago.

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One million Indian troops were stationed there on Jan. 1, including infantry and armored divisions, along with fighter aircraft and bombers. India moved its only aircraft carrier, six other ships, and two submarines into positions in the Arabian Sea within striking distance of Pakistani territory.

The buildup came in spite of American and British diplomacy aimed at reassuring India that their war next door could alleviate India's longstanding disputes with Pakistan. Secretary of State Colin Powell added to the U.S. list of outlawed organizations two Pakistan-based groups India believes are behind the December attacks. Mr. Bush also sought to reassure Mr. Vajpayee with news that Pakistan had arrested 50 "extremists or terrorists."

The Indian prime minister was unmoved. He said charges against those arrested were too vague and hinted that he could fight his own war. "Our objective is to put an end to Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country," he told a gathering of his own party.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf must decide whether to move troops to the border with India or maintain forces along the border with Afghanistan, where their presence could be essential to capturing key al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. The standoff with India only highlights concern that Pakistan is too infused with its own radical Islamic elements to be a tried-and-true partner in the war on terrorism.

Other borders are hot. North Korean border guards last month fired three shots across the DMZ, the tense border zone with South Korea. It was the first shooting incident along the zone in more than three years. South Korean troops returned fire, but official U.S. reaction was muted. Later the southern forces, together with the U.S. military contingent, discovered that the shots were fired from a machine gun banned under the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.

Communist officials in Pyongyang seemed to be measuring the American attention span. "If the U.S. imperialists try to test their logic of strength on [North Korea], as they are using it against some countries, they will be annihilated to the last man," read one official December commentary.

Elsewhere the war on terrorism colors internal strife. Under U.S. pressure, Kenyan police launched a series of raids targeting the country's Muslim community centered in the coastal city of Mombasa. They believe it harbors terrorist cells connected to al-Qaeda and is a transit point for South Asian drug traffickers.

Kenya arrested 50 prominent Muslim leaders, including the head of the National Muslim Youth party and a well-known businessman. But Muslims comprise a significant portion of Kenya's middle class and figure prominently in national politics; when the FBI wanted to extradite those arrested, Mombasa's High Court issued an injunction to prevent it.

Meanwhile, civil war again looms in Somalia, where clan warfare prompted the United States to send troops 10 years ago. A fledgling government lost a no-confidence vote in October. Two weeks ago fighting between rival militias killed 22 and injured civilians in a downtown Mogadishu meat market. Rival warlords, long associated with bin Laden operations, are racing for legitimacy as an antidote to being the next target in the U.S.-led war.


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