Had they really understood us, they would have turned Osama bin Laden over at the first opportunity. This is a new century, and its not too early to have a new "trial of the century." At a cost of a few months under Johnny Cochran's tutelage, bin Laden could have been playing golf in Florida by Summer.
Immediately handing him over would have eroded what little support we have in the world and at home for the extended campaign that we need to wage. The circus trial that would have ensued, whether in The Hague or Los Angeles or Islamabad, would have focused the public eye on a media sideshow that would have been an endless source of propaganda for radical Islam. It would have left his network in control of Afghanistan. And, all kidding aside, a bin Laden serving a life sentence anywhere would be a permanent living call-to-arms for Muslim extremists everywhere.
Hence the absolute need for a declaration of war, which Congress did issue, more or less, to take this definitely out of the realm of criminal law. Demanding that the Taliban hand him over was a bluff, and it is a very good thing they did not call us on it.
The second, more serious chance that the Taliban have not taken, and for which we must be seriously grateful, is that, as far as we know, bin Laden has not taken refuge in Pakistan's northwest province. The day he does, that is the beginning of the end for us.
It is no secret that Pakistan's population is enthusiastically pro-Taliban and pro-bin Laden. It is an easy assumption that Pakistan's military, particularly the soldiers and junior officers, share a sympathy for them. The Taliban have been, to some extent, proteges of Pakistan's secret services, suggesting that this sympathy must reach into key policy making areas of Pakistan's government.
Furthermore, northwest Pakistan is largely Pashtun, the same as the Taliban and the majority of the Afghans, but ethnically and linguistically distinct from the rest of Pakistan. This area is not well controlled by Pakistan's central government.
If bin Laden and the Taliban take refuge in this region, the central government would be faced with a dilemma. If they oppose him, there is the risk of several possible outcomes, all bad. Primarily, they risk the disintegration of Pakistan itself along ethnic lines. More likely, though, the military would mutiny and simply refuse to be drawn into such a war.
This would present us with a dilemma of our own. In Afghanistan, we have been given largely a free hand by the world. That would not be true in Pakistan. If we enter Pakistan in force, we would almost certainly face a popular uprising that would be a soldier's nightmare. If General Musharraf ordered his military to stand aside, or to help us, he would very likely be overthrown. To save himself, he would be obliged to resist our invasion militarily.
If his government were overthrown, Pakistani nuclear weapons would be in the hands of radicalized military officers. Unless we had absolute certainty of disciplined military control of these devices, we would have no choice but to go in under force and take them or destroy them. But invading a densely populated country of 144 million is not the same as invading Afghanistan, a country of maybe 25 million. Our forces are stretched now, trying to maintain all our commitments globally. We do not have the military forces available for such a mission in Pakistan. Our "light-as-air" support from our Muslim friends around the world would not survive such an incursion. And yet it is a mission we could not refuse, as the consequences of a nuclear-tipped Al-Qa'ida is too gruesome to contemplate.
The third chance the Taliban has, which they have attempted to use, is to draw India into the war. A recent suicide bombing in Kashmir provoked an Indian attack on Pakistani forces. This forced Colin Powell to make a fast trip to both countries to ask, or tell, them to cease and desist. But this presumes the Pakistani military's ability to control the Kashmiri terrorists, graduates of Bin Laden University, and this, in part, is contingent upon Musharraf's ability to control his own military. An order to suppress the Kashmiri terrorists, indirectly aiding India and the United States, may be too much to ask of his officers.
We have declared war on "terrorism," and have publicized an ambitious list of potential targets for our wrath. Our theater of operations could include a fifth of humanity. But our ability to carry this off successfully depends entirely upon our ability to sharply limit the scope of the battlefield. We have hinted broadly our intent to carry the war into several different countries, in several continents, over several years. What we have not broadcast is our absolute need to address these targets one at a time. We need to deal with the Taliban now, alone, and we absolutely need the others to patiently wait their turn.
War & Peace in the Real World
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Terrorism & U.S. Homeland Security
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
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