It is just one week before the US Presidential elections. We all know all that we want to know about the two candidates Senators John McCain of the Republican Party and Senator Barrack Obama of the Democratic Party. We also know what the American people think of them and their ideas for the future through the public opinion polls which, without an exception, predict voter approval for Obama and his ideas -- whether relating to the economy, the so-called war against terrorism or Iran's nuclear programme.
But there is still a missing gap in our knowledge -- what Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda think of the two candidates and their proposed policies. On the eve of the Presidential elections of 2004 (on October 29, 2004), Osama entered the pre-poll scene in the US with a video message to the American people, which poured scorn over American claims regarding the war.
Commenting on his message, I had written: "As the date of the polls approached, there was feverish speculation as to whether Bush, helped by (then) Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, would produce OBL before the American people like a magician producing a rabbit out of his hat and thereby make John Kerry look silly and win a thumping victory. Instead of Bush producing OBL and embarrassing Kerry, it is OBL's spin-masters who have produced him before the voters, making Bush, Kerry and everybody else in the US look silly and confused."
Is OBL planning a similar entry into the poll scene before the Americans vote? It will be out of keeping with him if he does not. Watch out during the days to come. Will he pour scorn over McCain and Bush just as al Qaeda web sites are already doing? What will he say about the statements of Obama about his determination to hunt for OBL, even if he has to send the US troops into Pakistani territory to catch him -- provided he has precise intelligence? Will he talk of what the jihadis in Pakistan and Afghanistan describe as the newly opened third front in the war -- on Wall Street?
Or will the expected message fail to materialise? If it fails to come, that will be more significant than his message if it does come. Failure to materialise would mean that there is something wrong somewhere in the Pashtun belt from where OBL is stated to be operating. The US and the Asif Ali Zardari government in Pakistan -- while pretending to criticise in open each other's counter-terrorism policies -- have been secretly co-operating and coordinating their operations even more closely than was the case under Musharraf -- the US from the air through repeated air strikes by pilotless drones in the two Waziristans and through aerial surveillance and the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps on the ground in the Bajaur Agency and the Swat Valley.
It is apparent that the stepped up operations both by the Americans and the Pakistanis are not unrelated to the Presidential polls. If the Americans can get a high-value target such as OBL or his No 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri before the polls, it will not only redound to the credit of Bush before he leaves office, but could also benefit McCain, who is desperately trying to avert a seeming rout in the elections.
Al Qaeda's foreign volunteers are on the run from village to village, from mosque to mosque and from madrasa to madrasa to protect themselves from the air strikes of the US and Pakistan. The war against terrorism has seen intense air strikes in Afghan territory from the beginning. Since Zardari's meeting with Bush in New York in September, it has been seeing an intense wave of air strikes in Pakistani territory. US planes have been flying across Pakistani air space over the tribal belt as if they are flying in US air space without worrying about the pro-forma criticism from Pakistani leaders and officials and repeatedly attacking suspected Al Qaeda hide-outs. They have killed many, but not the ones that matter.
What stands between the US and OBL or Zawahiri is just luck and a little bit of advance intelligence. Both have eluded the US so far. For air strikes, the US has to be lucky only once. OBL and Zawahiri have to be lucky every time.
OBL must be constantly moving to deny that one stroke of luck to the US. How serious is the ground position for him? One will get an answer either way -- whether his pre-poll message materialises or does not.