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Open a Wild Hiding Place

Pakistani vigilance in monitoring traffic to Afghanistan has been weak. Bush's proposed aid provides an incentive to improve.

June 25, 2003

Iraq isn't the only place U.S. and allied soldiers are being killed. The suicide bombing that killed four German peacekeepers in Kabul this month and the continuing offensive by U.S. soldiers against Taliban and Al Qaeda members give graphic evidence of the perilous security situation in Afghanistan. That's especially true in the eastern part of the country along the border with Pakistan.

Western Pakistan stayed hospitable to Taliban members long after the fall of the government that provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. For decades, governments ruling the rest of Pakistan mostly steered clear of the border region, letting tribes rule themselves. That hands-off policy ended after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York.

However, Pakistani attempts to block militants from crossing the border into Afghanistan have too often been halfhearted. President Bush, hoping to change that, provided warm words, a heap of proposed aid and a trip to Camp David on Tuesday to visiting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf called the border area "treacherous" for his troops and urged continued international assistance for Afghanistan. There, the government of President Hamid Karzai remains weak; its authority is limited largely to the Kabul area. Warlord rule deprives Karzai's government of tax and customs revenues and leaves plenty of political space for the Taliban to regroup.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will take charge of the 5,000-member peacekeeping force in Afghanistan in August and should expand the force's territory beyond Kabul. Providing protection in cities like Jalalabad, Kandahar and Herat will help both Afghans and foreign aid workers, who have come under repeated attacks.

Afghan officials said they disrupted several attacks on foreigners. However, they didn't stop the suicide bomber who on June 7 drove a car packed with explosives up to a bus taking German peacekeepers to the Kabul airport for a flight home at the end of their tour of duty. Four peacekeepers and an Afghan civilian died and many others were injured. Germany and France continue to provide peacekeepers in Afghanistan, a valuable contribution.

Musharraf's support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts is also important in denying sanctuary to Taliban and Al Qaeda members. Terrorists can threaten his government as well as Karzai's, as Bush noted. Pakistan was the key supporter of the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan but switched its backing to Washington after 9/11.

Bush's thanks to Musharraf during a joint news conference Tuesday included plans for a new trade deal and $3 billion in military and economic aid. That alone is not enough to bring the so-called tribal areas under control, or to find Bin Laden. But a better-equipped Pakistani army and better-employed citizenry are the right first steps.

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