The party is over. Stocktaking has begun. What does it all add up to - a watery grave for Osama bin Laden? The prestigious USA TODAY / Gallup Poll has come up with some startling results over the weekend. A lot of findings here that will make Barack Obama sit up and take note. Amongst them:
A. Nearly 6 Americans out of 10 think that with bin Laden’s death, it’s time for US to declare victory and get out of Afghanistan.
B. Such sentiments may be on an upward curve, still building.
C. Obama risks alienating his Democratic base if he chooses to continue with the war.
D. The demographic groups who form the bedrock of grassroots support for Obama - blacks, Hispanics, liberals, women under 50, youth under 35, low-income groups, unmarried people - they happen to be the most vocal about bringing US troops home from Afghanistan.
E. There is no demographic group in American society today which entertains majority opinion that continued US deployment in Afghanistan is justified.
F. Even among Republicans, enthusiasm for the war has waned. The party is evenly decided - 47% for and against the war. Among Independents, 62% feel the mission has been accomplished in Afghanistan.
G. Cutting across party lines - from traditionally anti-war Democrats to freshman Tea Party conservatives - there is growing questioning about the cost of the war and the returns of a military mission in Afghanistan.
Clearly, the support for the Afghan war is dramatically thinning in America. Fewer than 1% of Americans think that Afghanistan is the most serious issue facing their country. It’s economy, Stupid! Ultimately it is going to be Obama’s call. And he is a very gifted politician. USA TODAY reports: “The administration is already pressing hard for serious negotiations, a senior administration official says. “We do want to take full advantage of what could be an opportunity”, he said, speaking on background because the effort is being made behind the scenes. “We have aggressive messaging to the Taliban to see if there’s a way forward.”
During his trip to Kabul, PM Manmohan Singh may get to know more about the SMS messages coming from the cellphones in Washington to the insurgents. He is going to find it difficult to persuade Hamid Karzai to continue fighting like hell until the Taliban are vanquished from the face of the earth. The Indian policymakers will be erring if they estimate that Obama is raring to go in the gorges and mountains of Afghanistan in search of the Taliban. Or, that the war is going to roll on. Al-Qaeda has always been a mythical creature. A fig-leaf will be found that the Taliban (including the Haqqani network) have disengaged from the al-Qaeda.
The Russians have done a smart thing to get Asif Zardari over to Moscow. The Chinese are following suit by getting PM Yusaf Gilani over to Beijing. Iranian FM Ali Salehi is due in Islamabad. The regional powers are keenly looking for what is there in it for them if the US troops go home. Pakistan’s goodwill becomes important for them and accommodating Pakistan’s interests in the settlement will appear to them to be a reasonable thing and even a necessary pre-requisite in order for peace to be durable. (Can Obama overlook the imperatives, either?) It seems to me that Pakistan’s induction into SCO at the summit meeting in Astana on June 15 is a near-certainty now. The great game in Central Asia is beginning, and the protagonists are preparing.
That’s where US may have made a historic blunder in going about the Abbottabad operation the Rambo-way they did — humbling the Pakistani self-respect without leaving an exit door. Obama should have read Bismarck — how he stubbornly resisted when the Prussians won at the Battle of Koniggratz and the Kaiser wanted to march to Vienna and humiliate the Habsburgs. In life and in politics, you don’t carry things too far — and too blatantly. Actually, who cares anymore, how much, when or if General Pervez Kayani knew about Abbottabad - or, whether Gen. Shuja Pasha keeps his job in Rawalpindi? Only the Indian media, perhaps?