The merchants of terror are still as dangerous as ever, but in some of the more turbulent regions of the world the scales are tilting a little in the direction of order and reason.
Here are some of the portents in recent days:
Afghanistan. After weeks of cliffhanging wrangling, a new Constitution is in place. It offers hope for the evolution of this long-tortured land into a modern democratic state. Dangers still loom. Warlords still jealously guard their fiefdoms. Emphasis on Islamic law could still hobble freedoms. But elections are in train.
There is a commitment to the protection of human rights. Particularly significant is the granting of equal rights, and a voice in parliament, to women. Continuing support will be required of the international community, particularly the United States.
Pakistan. Peace talks between Pakistan and India, and a move toward ending decades of hostility between them, offers hope of greater stability in South Asia. The two countries are nuclear powers, but the threat their weapons pose is mostly to each other.
Real peace might discourage further nuclear-weapons development. Pakistan, either with or without the blessing of governments of the day, has been the clandestine exporter of nuclear know-how to countries like Libya, but President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally of the US in the war against terrorism, disavows knowledge. After two recent assassination attempts against him, Mr. Musharraf seems embarked on a campaign against extremism of all kinds and for amity with his neighbors.
Libya. After years in the diplomatic and economic wilderness, Muammar Qaddafi seems intent on bringing his country in from the cold. Whether President Bush's "preemptive strike" policy is, or is not, the reason for what one diplomatic wag terms Mr. Qaddafi's new "preemptive surrender" policy, the eccentric Libyan leader is taking steps to normalize his relations with the international community. These include the declaring the abandonment of a nuclear-weapons program, opening up his country to confirming international inspection, and paying of compensation for the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and that of a French airliner over Africa in 1989.
North Korea. One of Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" countries, North Korea seems to have moved somewhat in maneuverings designed to resolve crisis over its nuclear-weapons program.
At least, US State Department officials are interpreting Pyongyang's latest words on the possible suspension of nuclear programs as "positive," in the hope of making progress. It is tricky dealing with a country that has both negotiated, and then concealed and lied about its nuclear program in the past. But the North Koreans may be sniffing winds of change on the international scene and figuring it is time to deal. An unofficial delegation of US experts invited to visit North Korea last week was shown the Yongbyon nuclear facility. The verdict on that is not yet in.
Iran. This is another of Bush's "axis of evil" countries that has been duplicitous about its nuclear program. But recently it has agreed to international inspections. It remains to be seen how credible those will be.
A devastating earthquake last month opened the way to humanitarian aid from the US, but US hints of closer ties were rebuffed. That is probably understandable, given the nearness of elections next month, when reformers and conservative elements will battle for control of the Majlis, or parliament.
The outcome will do much to decide the future of Iran's government and the direction of the country.
Syria. Here is another country seeking to improve relations with neighbors in the region. President Bashar al-Assad has just visited Turkey, the first such visit by a Syrian head of state in nearly 60 years. Turkey, of course, is a longtime ally of the US and has offered to mediate between Syria and Israel. President Assad said recently he would be willing to restart discussions with Israel over the Golan Heights and a possible agreement for peace.
Iraq. What happens in post-Hussein Iraq will have a significant bearing on events in the foregoing countries. The US is racing to establish the secure conditions that would give democracy a chance when the occupying forces hand over control to an Iraqi government in midyear. Success in forging economic and political freedom could make Iraq a shining example to much of the Arab and Muslim world. Failure could put a brake on even these modest progressive trends.
• John Hughes, editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News, is a former editor of the Monitor.