After two days on the front page, the Pakistan army’s offensive operations in South Waziristan are this morning consigned to page 6A, below the fold. The editorial decision, no doubt made to permit room for a color photo of Redskins’ quarterback Jason Campbell being sacked, is unfortunate because it is difficult to thing of any news upon which the future happiness of so many people rests as fortunes, good or ill, of the Pakistani forces.
The White House has been pushing the Pakistan government for a long time to get tough with the Islamist radical who populate Waziristan and other tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border. From these regions, Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have been launching attacks against NATO forces inside Afghanistan. Recently, the militants have launched a series of highly murderous attacks against Pakistan security forces, which prompted the government to act.
In the struggle between modernity and Islamicist terror, Pakistan is Ground Zero not lower Manhattan. If the long NATO effort in Afghanistan and the American effort in Iraq have shown anything, it is the limits of Western military power to affect a cultural change. The Pakistan military might have success where we have failed. Obviously, the linguistic and many other cultural barriers between the Pakistani army and the Islamicist terrorists are not as great as those the U.S. Army had to overcome.
Certainly, the image of Muslims fighting each other denies the Islamicist’s of their narrative that the West is responsible for all the violence in their region. This is important. "The West" is shorthand for a variety of attitudes and beliefs about human freedom and human law that we associate with modernity, many of which now animate the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims. (We Catholics may have other, different problems with the modern legacy, but that is a different story.) To the extent the armies of the West are seen to be championing the attitudes of modernity, it is easy for Islamicist propagandists to paint the effort as a new Crusade, with all the horrific images that word conveys. They can’t make that charge stick when the guys shooting at them are from Lahore and Karachi.
As Catholics we are called always and everywhere to pray for peace. But, in the current conflict, we can also pray for the success of the Pakistani army. Converting the hearts of Al-Qaeda and Taliban murderers will require a miracle and in the meantime we have only the Pakistani army. May they prosper. And, may the American press alert the nation to the importance of the struggle by keeping it on page one.