- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Is Pakistan the next terrorist trouble spot?

To those willing to pay attention, it has been apparent for some time that the nexus between Pakistan's intelligence agency (the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI) and the Taliban runs deep ("Taliban, Pakistan linked, general says," World, Dec. 19). While the historical antecedents of the Taliban rise and the ISI's explicit support for that movement are today well established, more worrisome is what the future might hold. Pakistan may soon feel the negative effects of trying to ride the fundamentalist tiger for so long.

Reports from the region indicate that senior Taliban and al Qaeda officials are streaming through the 1,300-mile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are being absorbed into the tribal and intelligence communities who continue to give succor to these terrorists. As this happens, the seeds of internal and external dissent will grow. Already, Pakistan is stricken with violent internecine conflicts that pit fundamentalist Islam against the country's more moderate and urbane intellectuals. A new influx of jihadists would only serve to aggravate the country's precarious balance.

More alarming, from a U.S. perspective, allowing these individuals to put down new roots in the similarly desolate and ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan would prolong an unacceptable threat.

Despite Pakistan's lack of resistance to the U.S. fight, that country should soon be viewed by our policy-makers as the next arena in the battle against terrorism. There already exist many indigenous groups that use terrorism to promote their fundamentalist convictions and that could provide a ready organizational framework into which former Taliban and al Qaeda members could easily integrate.

These groups until now have limited their war to India and the disputed province of Jammu and Kashmir. Last week's heinous attack on the Indian Parliament is one such example. But it would take little to transform these groups from regional irritants to global menaces.

The United States should move quickly to adopt a two-pronged approach to Pakistan.

First, we should place existing terrorist groups in Pakistan on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, thus signaling our purported resolve to hunt down terrorism wherever it hides, while signaling to our Indian allies that we stand with them in this fight. Furthermore, Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, should be put on notice that his country risks being designated a state sponsor of terrorism should it be determined that former combatants in Afghanistan have received shelter from the ISI or any other arm of the state.

Second, U.S. military and intelligence services should do what they can to support and empower the Musharraf regime to assist in stamping out these groups and giving a new generation of Pakistanis an alternative to militancy.



The danger of refundable tax credits

Greg Scandlen insists that if refundable tax credits for all those who have to buy their own health insurance coverage "isn't an idea that should appeal to conservatives, I don't know what is" ("Health care tax credit benefits," Commentary, Dec. 13). He is half right. He doesn't know.

If the real policy goal is tax neutrality for government tax policy for health insurance, the solution is tax deductibility for all health insurance purchasers, not a mixture of deductibility for most employees of firms providing group insurance and a fixed dollar tax credit for buyers of individual insurance policies.

If the policy goal is to provide more of the current tax subsidy to lower-income workers, the real complaint is with the progressive marginal tax rate structure of the current Internal Revenue Service code. Until we move to a flat tax (the real solution), the value of any income tax deductions will always be greater for taxpayers in higher income brackets.

The current "entitlement" under the tax code for health insurance purchases is not limited solely to those Americans who obtain employer-sponsored insurance. The self-employed already can deduct 60 percent of the cost of their health insurance, and they will be able to deduct 100 percent by 2003.

Interestingly enough, even though the self-employed receive less generous tax advantages for health insurance purchases than other workers and they are less likely than wage earners to be covered by health insurance, this relative lack of insurance doesn't affect the health of the self-employed. Craig Perry and Harvey Rosen concluded in a recent study for the National Bureau for Economic Research that "for virtually every subjective and objective measure of health status, the self-employed and wage earners are statistically indistinguishable from each other."

The dangers of most refundable tax credit proposals are three-fold:

First, they generally are designed to award tax "cuts" to individuals who pay little, or no, federal income taxes.

Second, they are politically prone to pay for increased subsidies to low-income workers by reducing the current health insurance tax benefits available to higher income Americans (in effect, increasing the latter's marginal income tax rates).

Third, they reinforce the mistaken precept that health insurance is a public good for everyone who cannot be financed adequately without even greater subsidies from taxpayers. Additional political conditions on how these tax subsidies for health insurance are to be spent will follow accordingly.

Refundable tax credits in fixed dollar amounts that are greater than an individual worker's federal tax liabilities (including payroll taxes) are bad tax policy, bad welfare policy and bad health policy.

Before we point the tax policy gun in a new direction, let's first make sure it's not aimed at our own feet.


Director of Health Policy Studies

Cato Institute


John Walker, victim or traitor?

The war on terror is proceeding well for our country, so far. While our government has not officially made a declaration of war, the other side did and has been waging it openly for some time. After demonstrating both our power and our kindness, we are faced with issues that tear deeply into our collective fiber. One of them is the question of whether John Walker is a traitor.

The legalists will parse the issue every way from Sunday. Our court system will give this citizen every chance to prove he's not a traitor. The trial will be raised to the O.J. Simpson level quickly. Are Johnny Cochran and Alan Dershowitz already waiting in the wings? The news media hope so.

Poor, Walker. It's not his fault. After all, he was raised in mushy-headed Marin County. He was looking for a different identity, tried being black at age 14, discovered "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," started wearing white robes and converted to Islam. Maybe this was a logical path from the hot tubs, cultural liberalism, simplistic multiculturalism of the mushiest of California's counties. Walker's family was nominally a Roman Catholic one, but it seems anything but. His mother, we're told, dabbled in Buddhism; his father, an affluent lawyer, paid for Walker's studies in Yemen and Pakistan.

Nor was his father too upset when his son commented about the attack on the USS Cole, that it was deserved because the ship shouldn't have been in an Arab port. Walker's take on the World Trade Center terrorist attacks was that they were justified because of America's past sins against Arabs and Muslims. His parents weren't too upset about that, either.

Now? Walker may be a traitor. Why? Because he consciously and voluntarily took part in a war against his country and our allies. Carrying an AK-47, he deliberately participated in acts of war for the entire period after September 11 against our friends and us. He was taken prisoner and was involved in the prison riot in which one of our CIA agents was killed beaten, bludgeoned and mutilated.

His family says he is a victim, not a traitor, that he was brainwashed. Interesting.

Here's a man as old as the Marines he opposed, who consciously and voluntarily took up arms against his country. And he is a victim?

America has almost always been lenient with traitors from Aaron Burr, who was raising an army against the United States, to Tokyo Rose, of World War II fame. While morally and behaviorally traitors, somehow they weren't traitorous enough to be hanged or shot. Life in solitary confinement, alone forever to recite his prayers, might be sufficient punishment for Walker, but then, maybe not.


St. Augustine, Fla.

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