The real war on terror gets ignored yet again |

The real war on terror gets ignored yet again

Kirk Caraway
Internet Editor

By Osama bin Laden released one of his messages last week, another in a long series of threats the world is getting pretty tired of listening to.

But this one was a little different. It called for an uprising against Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf.

Why is this different? Try 46 percent. That’s the percentage of people in Pakistan who approve of bin Laden, according to an extensive new poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow and the Pakistan Institute for Public Opinion. Musharraf only managed 38-percent approval, and probably isn’t too happy to be bested by a man living in a cave.

This poll confirmed previous ones that show bin Laden has quite a bit of support among the people in his adopted homeland, far more than he has in Iraq.

And now he wants to wage war on Musharraf. Considering the numbers, he has a pretty decent chance of succeeding. Bin Laden is already in the country with his army, and heavily armed tribal forces sympathetic to him control large swaths of territory along the Afghan border.

Why should this be of any concern to us? Because it puts bin Laden closer to possessing nuclear weapons than he has ever been before. He doesn’t even have to win a battle against Musharraf if he can get enough of that 46 percent infiltrated into the forces guarding Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile.

Yet we hear nothing but silence from the Bush administration, which has never missed an opportunity to scare the hell out of the American people with threats of terrorism.

Why is that? After all, we invaded Iraq on the off chance that Saddam Hussein had restarted his nuclear program and might, sometime in the distant future, develop a bomb and then hand it over to a religious fanatic who was openly antagonistic to his secular regime.

This is Vice President Dick Cheney’s 1 percent doctrine, as detailed by journalist Ron Suskind in his book of the same name, that even if there is a remote chance that bin Laden could get his hands on a bomb, then America must strike.

Bin Laden didn’t even have a 1-percent chance of getting an Iraqi nuke in his lifetime, but he has maybe a 46-percent chance of getting one from Pakistan. Yet there are no alarm bells coming out of Washington, none of the tough talk like we hear about Iran, which doesn’t even have a bomb yet.

What happened to that 1-percent doctrine? It could be that Bush & Co. do not care about bin Laden and Pakistan because they do not fit their immediate political agenda. It reminds people that the man they promised to get “dead or alive” is still on the loose while the bulk of the American military is bogged down two countries away.

It will probably take a mushroom cloud or a new president to focus attention back to what is the real front line on the war on terror.

Bin Laden’s popularity in Pakistan probably has more do to with Musharraf’s dictatorial rule than any affinity for the world’s most wanted terrorist. The funny thing about dictatorships is they tend to suppress the moderate majority and empower the extremes. Given no other outlet for opposition, people then start flocking to bin Laden.

The poll points this out as well. Former centrist Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has a 63-percent approval rating, though she can’t do much about things in Pakistan since she is living in exile in Dubai.

Musharraf knows he is in trouble. He recently met with Bhutto in Dubai to discuss sharing power with her Pakistan People’s Party. But he also insists on running for another term as president and remaining head of the armed forces, which is one of the reasons bin Laden is declaring war on him.

A pact between Musharraf and Bhutto could take the wind out of bin Laden’s sails. But dictators don’t like to give up power. Musharraf proved this point earlier this month when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested and sent back to exile within only a few hours after his return. He doesn’t really want to share power with Bhutto or anyone, and that could be his downfall.

When we talk about the cost of the Iraq war in terms of lives lost and money spent, we also have to add in the cost of not paying attention to bin Laden and his activities in Pakistan. The dreadful irony is that trying to secure victory in Iraq could lead to bin Laden getting his hands on a nuclear bomb, which was what the Iraq war was meant to prevent.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of and also writes a blog on national issues at