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Rumors of war

"Rumors of war" Continued...

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

The conflict tests the limits of the U.S. alliance with Pakistan in the GWOT. Pakistan helped create and foster the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and has long used radical Islamic groups as forward troops in its disputes with India. The clashes now test whether Mr. Musharraf can bring those groups to heel. It also throws into relief the difference between government systems: India has pursued a secular democracy while Pakistan continues to blend democracy with Islam. Both countries have problems with radical religious elements, but only Pakistan retains a blasphemy law that is tied to Muslim Shariah code. Under it the government charges with violations not only 60 Christians a year but also hundreds of Muslims.

But what's thus far kept the peace-such as it is-may be both sides' nuclear weapons. Violence overall in Kashmir has dropped since the 1988 nuclear tests, and both sides know it's in their best interest to find a solution before sporadic fighting goes nuclear. And the United States would like to include the two enemies as its own allies in the war on terrorism.

African wars

African wars are not politically correct news. It is no news that they seldom make headlines in the United States, especially when Central Asian battlefields are hot. Civil war in Congo continues to include forces located in Angola and Uganda. A recent upsurge of fighting in Liberia threatens the government of Charles Taylor and could spill into Sierra Leone, only now breathing again after a civil war that began in 1991.

In Sudan, once the base of operations for Osama bin Laden, officials of the Islamic government in Khartoum have used the cover of war on terrorism, and a flawed ceasefire plan negotiated with U.S. Special Envoy John Danforth, to terrorize southern Sudan again.

An attack on the town of Rier in Western Upper Nile took place on May 22, just as U.S. Agency for International Development director Andrew Natsios, who is also the president's Special Humanitarian Coordinator on Sudan, was set to visit the area hours later. Early reports confirmed 15 dead, at least 35 critically wounded, and more than 60 others hurt. Attacks on civilians are common, particularly in this oil-rich region where Khartoum's forces would like to clear the land of habitation.

Earlier, in February, a Sudanese army helicopter gunship attacked the town of Bieh in Western Upper Nile, killing 17 and injuring dozens, nearly all women and children. The attack came just as villagers gathered to accept a food delivery from the UN World Food Program. UN officials had obtained permission from the government in Khartoum to make the food drop.

As fighting between rebels in the south, which is predominantly Christian, and the Islamic government in the north passes its 19th year, attack sites by the government have focused on lands slated for oil development. Those areas have been the focus of Sudanese government pogroms, with forces using the sporadic gunship attacks to scatter villagers. Then oil developers-Canadian, European, and Chinese-can move in. After the strikes, Khartoum went one step further: restricting UN humanitarian flights, which carry 80 percent of U.S. aid into southern Sudan.

Despite those setbacks, former Sen. Danforth has recommended renewing diplomatic relations with Khartoum, which ended six years ago. The State Department complied, naming Jeffrey Millington the first resident diplomat. He began meetings with Khartoum leaders May 30.

Middle East

Christians do not speak with one voice on Middle East conflicts. On the one hand are Christian organizations and churches who view the return of modern Jews to the state of Israel as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Since they believe modern Israel should enjoy divine status in the region, these organizations align themselves with Jewish groups in the United States to lobby for a pro-Israeli policy-earning the designation "Christian Zionists."

International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is one such group. It began in 1980 "to bless and comfort Zion" after 13 nations, under threat of an Arab oil embargo, moved their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Today the organization has nine overseas branches of support, although its staff is mostly American. The group publishes, online and in print, the Middle East Digest (icej.org) with brisk analysis of the current intifada. It sides with Israelis who believe that establishing a Palestinian state within Israel's borders would compromise national security.

When Palestinians took refuge this spring inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, Christian Embassy director Malcolm Hedding condemned their act as "a premeditated offense by militant outlaws."

Christians living in Bethlehem at the same time condemned Israel for ordering forces into the city. They said that by sending tanks and troops into Manger Square, Israel provoked the confrontation and turned it into an international incident. They also condemn Israeli forces for denying food deliveries to those who remained inside the church 19 days. "The appropriate response from Israel is not to retaliate with worse war scenes to be shared, but by withdrawing, and ending the occupation," said Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem.

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