World and Nation

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Heavy Battles Are Raging With Taliban in Pakistan

Heavy fighting raged for a third day in Pakistan’s northwest on Thursday as civilians flooded from the area and the Pakistani military reported some gains in pushing back Taliban insurgents.

The Pakistani military secured mountain passes to the west and south of Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital, according to its spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, who spoke at a news briefing at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi. Helicopter gunships also rocketed Taliban positions in the north of Buner, where the militants had apparently fortified positions in areas adjoining their stronghold in the Swat Valley.

While government forces consolidated control of Buner’s main town, Daggar, Abbas said it could take still another week for the operation to clear the whole district of militants, as the military was proceeding slowly to defuse booby traps and avoid civilian casualties.

Now, U.S. Sees Pakistan as A Cause Distinct from Afghanistan

The big idea behind the Obama administration’s long-in-the-making policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was that the two countries were inextricably linked. The key to stabilizing Afghanistan, the White House concluded five weeks ago, was a stable and cooperative Pakistan.

That calculation has been utterly scrambled by the Taliban offensive in western Pakistan, which has forced the United States to concentrate on the singular task of preventing further gains in Pakistan by an Islamic militant insurgency that has claimed territory just 60 miles from Islamabad.

“We’re no longer looking at how Pakistan could help Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “We’re looking at what we could do to help Pakistan get through this period.”

President Barack Obama and his top advisers have been meeting almost daily to discuss options for helping the Pakistani government and military repel the offensive. But those conversations are complicated by deepening doubts within the administration about Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities, and by resistance in Congress, which has attached strict conditions to $400 million in U.S. aid to buttress Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities.

Judicial Power on Mortgages Is Rejected in a Senate Vote

The Senate handed a victory to the banking industry on Thursday, defeating a Democratic proposal that would have given homeowners in financial trouble greater flexibility to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved a bill backed by the Obama administration that would limit the ability of credit card companies to charge high fees and penalties. The bill, approved 357-70, still faces obstacles in the Senate, where — as the action on Thursday illustrated — the industry has more clout, particularly among Republicans and moderate Democrats. In recent days the White House, partly in response to polls showing the significant public outrage over high fees charged by credit card companies, has begun to work for its passage.