This Time, Bin Laden May Have Gone Too Far

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Empires historically have crumbled when they overreach, and superterrorist Osama bin Laden’s adventures in China may yet prove to be his undoing. The survival prospects for the international financier-revolutionary dimmed last week following the coup in Pakistan and a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against his hosts –- Afghanistan’s Taliban movement –- if they fail to extradite Bin Laden for trial in the U.S. Beijing and Moscow were more than happy to support Washington in passing the Bin Laden resolution, because the fugitive Saudi is alleged to have actively supported Islamic separatists in Chechnya and in western China. "Even more important for Bin Laden, China appears to be the major player in Pakistan now," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "And Pakistan remains the Taliban’s key backer, which could mean increased pressure on Bin Laden."

In fact, Bin Laden may have had trouble endearing himself to Pakistan’s new military rulers even without international pressure, because Sunni Muslim fighters trained in Bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan have been fomenting communal violence against Shi’ite Muslim communities inside Pakistan. The Taliban, predictably, lashed out at the U.N. resolution and vowed to defy international pressure to hand over the man accused of masterminding last year’s deadly attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. Nonetheless, the movement is anxious to consolidate its control over Afghanistan and normalize relations with the international economy –- a quest that won’t be helped by tales of its fighters’ savagery against civilians reported in Monday’s New York Times. "The Taliban can’t afford to be seen to cave in to U.S. pressure," says Dowell. "But they may quietly force Bin Laden to leave, and that leaves him a lot more vulnerable to capture." Object lesson for international terrorists: If you’re going to mess with one big power, lay off the others.