The chessboard is laid out. The chessmen are in place. The game has begun. Without fanfare the final assault in the war against terror may have already started. The enemy is headquartered in Pakistan. The immediate zone of operations is entire South Asia. The war is global.
Pakistan's general election is due in January 2008. If that is to take place the war must be decisively won before that.
Benazir Bhutto is back in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif has announced his return for November 7th. Once Pakistan's Supreme Court endorses Musharraf's election an interim government is expected to be put in place. Quite likely it will include Bhutto, MMA leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PML-Q leader Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein and, probably, Nawaz Sharif.
This would be the closest to a national government of Pakistan. This interim government would oversee the Pakistan army's operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban. It is this government that would have to evolve the post-war peace formula to wean the Pashtuns away from Osama bin Laden. As much would depend on the success of the peace formula as it would on the performance of the Pakistan army.
Karachi based journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad quoting a top Pakistani security official wrote:
'The goal this time is to pacify the Waziristans once and for all. All previous military operations - usually spurred by intelligence provided by the Western coalition - have had limited objectives, aimed at specific bases or sanctuaries or blocking the cross-border movement of guerrillas. Now the military is going for broke to break the back of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and reclaim the entire area...The fighting that erupted two weeks ago... is but a precursor of the bloodiest battle that is coming.'
If the war on terror by the Pakistan army is indeed reaching a decisive stage it undoubtedly would impinge heavily on India's own security. Recent bomb blasts across Indian cities will likely escalate in scale and frequency. The Al Qaeda sympathizers have already announced intention of targeting Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi in the near future. Al Qaeda has a global view. It does not differentiate between the regimes in India and Pakistan for targeting. Can the governments of South Asia afford to retain their fractured views on fighting terror?
The joint anti-terrorism mechanism set up between India and Pakistan needs drastic upgrading. Interior ministry officials of both governments started confabulations yesterday. It remains to be seen if the impending crisis influences the outcome of the meeting.
China's cooperation to fight terrorism would be crucial. The prospect is hopeful. President Hu Jintao has emerged stronger in his second term. It seems less likely that PLA generals would continue to prevail over his decisions. Whatever ambiguity China may have displayed earlier with regard to terrorist outfits should by now have vanished. The Al Qaeda backed Taliban for the first time turned their guns against Chinese engineers and citizens based in Pakistan. The anti-Chinese thrust is attributed to a faction controlled by Waziristan's Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud. Kidnapping and killing of the Chinese in Pakistan impelled Musharraf to act against the Lal Mosque militants. That action triggered the chain of events leading to the present showdown.
It is possible that President's Hu view on South Asia's unfolding war on terror would be conveyed to Sonia Gandhi when she visits Beijing next Thursday. Hopefully, all governments in the region may unite to confront Al Qaeda.