Pakistan is in the middle of the terrorist struggle, with its close ties to the Taleban in Afghanistan. How to deal with Pakistan was recently discussed at Washington's Brookings Institution. Osama bin Laden could quickly depart this earth, says Stephen Cohen, an analyst of South Asia at the Brookings Institution. The Taleban might decide finally that he is a liability, and with a pillow over his head or a chicken bone in his throat, he could be quietly killed.
That way, the man considered a prime suspect in Tuesday's terrorist attacks, would disappear without implicating the Taleban, who indeed could blame his death on American agents.
But for the Taleban to make such a move, would require Pakistani pressure, says Mr. Cohen. "Pakistan serves as the gateway for almost all of Afghanistan's imports. If Pakistan wanted to, it could shut Afghanistan down tomorrow simply by refusing to allow transit through Pakistan to Afghanistan," he said. "And I think that is going to be one of things that Colin Powell will ask Pakistanis to do, to put such tremendous pressure on the Taleban that they have no resort except to turn over Osama bin Laden."
That will not be easy for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who faces conflicting pressures. In complying with U.S. demands, he risks antagonizing Pakistan's large fundamentalist population, who are also active in the military. Should he be overthrown, say observers, the United States might well confront a far more dangerous radical leadership.
Pakistan is also likely to ask for something in return for its help, says Mr. Cohen, such as lifting economic sanctions and a greater U.S. role in the conflict with India over Kashmir. "That presents this administration with a real problem because we have made our policy in South Asia an India-first policy," he said. "I back that policy, but it runs some risk of becoming an India-only policy. Among other scenarios, you could envision a worsening of India-Pakistan relations, and since both countries are nuclear armed, this crisis is indirectly linked to a potential nuclear crisis in South Asia."
If Pakistan is not sufficiently forthcoming, there is talk of U.S. forces entering Afghanistan. Robert Litan, vice president of Brookings, says such talk is cheap. "I would merely point out that Britain learned the price of fighting in the Khyber Pass [in Afghanistan]. The Soviet Union did as well. Keep in mind the nature of the adversary we face," he said. "Osama bin Laden, if he does manage to avoid the pillow, is not going to hang around in clearly identifiable camps, if they have not already emptied out as people flee because they do not want to be targets."
Stephen Cohen says a U.S. overreaction could be just what the terrorists want. The brutal attack is only one part of their scheme, he says. "In fact, the people who have done this like what they have done. They like the television coverage," he said. "They like the attacks on the mosques, and they like the attacks on Asians and Middle Eastern looking people. For them, this is proof that America is a racist, aggressive, imperialist country. This will confirm the justice and the legitimacy of what they have done."
We talk about waging total war, says Mr. Cohen, but it is really total war for the terrorists, involving not just the act of violence, but what happens in its aftermath.