W hile Iraq hovers between progress and anarchy, Afghanistan -- the largely forgotten first front opened in the war on terror -- is in free fall. Violence has been escalating; during the past week alone, more than 300 people died in suicide bombings and battles between Taliban fighters and coalition troops.

Almost five years after the military rout of the Taliban, Afghanistan is at risk of falling back into their hands.

Not that the Taliban ever disappeared entirely. Taliban members retreated to Pakistan's border areas in 2001, and each spring -- the fighting season -- they've reappeared in Afghanistan. They undoubtedly figured that over time -- given the geographic challenges of fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, and continued help from al-Qaida -- they could wear down the United States and its coalition as they did the Soviets.

This year, their numbers reportedly have burgeoned, just as American troops are planning to pull out of southern Afghanistan and hand over security control to NATO forces led by Canada, Britain and Holland.

There's real danger that if those troops can't keep Taliban insurgents in check, the warlords who have cooperated with the coalition and the government of President Hamid Karzai will be persuaded to change their loyalties, as they have in the past. Without their cooperation, any hope of stabilizing Afghanistan would be lost.

Given those concerns, the Bush administration needs to refocus on Afghanistan. Plans to withdraw 3,000 troops from Afghanistan this summer should be revised. Greater efforts should be made by the U.S. and coalition partners to jump-start the Afghan economy; the Taliban is funded largely from the poppy trade that remains the country's most lucrative business.

A trickier task is pressuring Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, to take a harder line with his army, which has long supported and protected the Taliban. Musharraf has tried to convince the West he's an ally in the war on terror while at the same time appeasing his military so he can stay in power. ...

-- Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.

Members of Congress from both parties found something to rally around [in late May] in Washington while fighting off the Justice Department, which they claim is stepping on their constitutional toes.

Leaders from both parties demanded the FBI return documents and copies of computer files seized from the office of Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, who is accused of accepting $100,000 in bribes to promote high-tech business ventures in Africa and storing most of it in his apartment freezer.

It's hard to understand why lawmakers would be quite so up in arms about this particular case. The incident would have more oomph if Congress had a more sympathetic story on which to stake the "it's-a-constitutional-issue" flag.

In fact, we probably could find few supportive Americans amid plenty of cynical ones given all the corruption plaguing Washington.

At the heart of this confrontation is the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution, usually broadly interpreted to keep the executive branch from intimidating lawmakers. Separation of power is one of the core tenets of our democracy and worth protecting. ...

The timing of this constitutional confrontation couldn't have been worse. Congress had plenty of work to do before the Memorial Day recess. Too bad it spent so much energy posturing over this case.

Grandstanding and chest pounding won't score any points with the American public. It only reaffirms what many voters feel: Those folks in Washington are out of touch and out of step with the rest of us.

-- Dallas Morning News

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