It is not too early now to surmise the shape of the American agenda in the projected war against global terrorism. And it is necessary that we do so.
Even the US will not expect many in the world to buy the canard that taking Osama dead or alive, or even taking out his terrorist network in Afghanistan, is the sole American objective. It is doubtful if the US goal in the present 'global war on terrorism' will be limited even to 'smoking out' the Taliban from Afghanistan. If it were, the US response would have come sooner than it has. Piecing together the various announcements and pronouncements since September 11, one is left with the irreducible reality that the US envisages the current offensive to be a protracted one, though Gen. Musharraf is eager to assert his 'personal belief' that the reprisal will be short-lived.
A decade since the Iraq-Kuwait standoff, it is so chillingly clear how the US used this rather contrived situation to its maximum strategic and economic advantage. Bush Senior must be eternally beholden to Saddam for enabling him to secure for the US what seems to be a permanent foothold in the Middle East. Those of us who have followed the sequence of events in this region are hardly in any doubt at all that, for all the anti-Saddam rhetoric, liberating the people of Iraq from the tyrannical yoke of Saddam was not among the strategic goals of President Bush. This was zealously avoided, not so much in deference to the norms of internal conventions, but in view of the need to counterbalance Iran which, at that time, was deemed the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. The elimination of Saddam and the likely establishment of a democratic government, besides, would have denied the US the excuse for turning itself into a permanent presence in this region.
Afghanistan is, in a sense, a double-take of Iraq. Future historians will see this event as a sequel to the taming of Saddam in the consolidation of America's global hegemony. What, then, is the principal goal at this stage?
It is hardly a secret that the real nightmare for the western bloc in general and the US and Israel in particular is the Islamic Bomb. As a matter of fact it was on account of Saddam's overweening ambition to possess the Bomb that he was demonized and disabled by the west. Now, Black Tuesday amounts to the Ultimate Terror for the US not merely because the Twin Towers have been brought down, killing innocent people in their thousands. Not even because the terrorists managed to carry war into the haven of American prosperity and security. While all these amount to a stinging blow to the American pride, what makes it a psychological apocalypse is the possibility that terrorists could, next time around, launch a nuclear attack on the US. It is here that the spotlight falls squarely on Pakistan; for that country today is the sole custodian of the Islamic Bomb.
Seen in this light, it is not too farfetched to assume that the American goal in the current offensive, though ostensibly targeted at the Taliban with Pakistan as a valued ally, has in essence a double-reference. These two neighbouring countries cannot be separated in any conceivable way. The Taliban has had its birth in Pakistan. It has grown with that country's help and it continues to enjoy a very substantial and fanatically committed support base in Pakistan. The Northern Alliance, on the other hand, is Pakistan's perennial headache. In the face of Bush's stated objective of taking out not only the terrorists but also those who harbour them, power in Kabul will change hands. This would coerce Pakistan into another Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, having to depend on the US for its day-to-day survival. Even allowing for the most optimistic scenario of a Pak-neutral regime in Kabul, Gen. Musharraf from now onwards cannot survive even a few days without active American support and protection. In short, Bush has taken de facto charge of the Islamic Bomb! The sporadic and guarded statements from Washington that terrorism of all kinds will be taken care of in course of time point in this direction. It may be mentioned here in passing that the US intervening in Kashmir eventually in such a way as to appease the anti-Musharraf frenzy that currently burns in Pakistan is a distinct possibility. The novel idea of raining bombs at night and bread during the day over Afghanistan, in a way, points to Bush's eagerness to assuage the anger of the Muslim world.
In the long run, the objective of the US-led global coalition against terror is likely to go beyond the disabling of the nuclear prowess of Pakistan. We may go on to envisage two further steps thereafter. The first is to mount pressure on India to sign the CTBT, on the pretext that the threat from Pakistan does not exist any longer. The second is to sustain the "economic war" against those non-western nations that entertain the ambition of going nuclear sooner or later. The valuable lesson that the US has learned, especially from the bin Laden saga, is the connection between funding, poverty and terrorism. Assuredly, the attacks on New York and Washington were made possible by the enormous funds at the disposal of the terrorist networks concerned. The needle of suspicion, in that case, points not just to Al-Qaeda or its country cousins in West Asia, but also to the tonnage of petro-dollars at the disposal of governments sympathetic to the terrorist and jehadi cause. Narco-terrorism is child's play compared to Petro-dollar terrorism. Thanks to the leverage that globalization now offers to the US and its western allies, it is comparatively easy for President Bush to modulate the economic war in such a way that Islamic nations will have to hurt themselves to finance jehads and holy terrors in the days ahead. Needless to say, the after-shocks of this could shake the economic foundations of quite a large number of nations in the world, including our own.
But all these will not be without a price for the American people. It is rarely, if ever, that the stream of history flows along the furrow ploughed for it by the hand of man. There is an even chance that the American adventure backfires. Even if it does not, what is absolutely certain is that, in terms of people's movements, Americans will not be seen in many parts of the world for years, possibly decades, to come. They will have to live with the biting irony that individually they are so vulnerable precisely because as a nation they are too powerful! Americans, for their penchant for travel and wanderlust, will be under "country-arrest," if you like. But, then, who can dodge the conundrums of power in a world where terror checkmates terror in a bid to make the world safer for peace?