While good luck to America for having to choose between two mediocre presidential candidates, what they say on the campaign trail does affect major parts of the world. In particular, Barack Obama vowing to "kill Osama" and John McCain asking him to "talk softly" will determine and define the terrorist violence on the ground in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Indeed, what's now said on the campaign trail on Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Afghanistan will return to haunt or hurt the next president of the United States, depending on respectively Obama or McCain's victory.

For, Barack Obama is overdoing it vowing to "kill Obama". The United States has been on that job for seven years since 9/ 11 without succeeding, and if the incumbent president, George W.Bush's cowboy talk, "We'll smoke 'em out," made no difference to the campaign to get the terrorist leader, dead or alive, it is unlikely that Obama with his doubtful derring-do will make much difference. But such pointless bravado will have the unintended consequence of re-energizing the Al-Qaeda/ Taliban fighters, and it will make it harder for the US ally and Pakistan's democratically-elected president, Asif Zardari, to battle the Al-Qaeda-backed terrorists who are threatening to take over the country.

This writer was sceptical when the United States leaked to the American media as late as last month that special troops had once been and would again be landed in Pakistan's tribal areas to go after Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The leaks and the testimony of Admiral Mike Mullen to Congress about strategy change in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Afghanistan were deeply embarrassing and distressing for Asif Zardari, who was not even a week elected to his post. The Pakistani military was upset. Mullen had to fly in and do some hand-holding. The leak and Bush's tough line on Afghanistan looked suspiciously like having been fashioned to help McCain on his campaign, which is not only unethical, but would impact on military operations. Presumably, in a delayed reaction, Obama is now talking tough on Afghanistan, which is again not good for US military operations or Pakistan's democratic well-being. In a long war, while political statements of intent need sometimes to be reiterated and reinforced, those reinforcements must calculatedly assist in war victory, not in helping a particular presidential candidate. Perhaps such perfections are impossible to obtain in a democracy, but at any rate, the US leadership, especially Bush and Obama, ought to realize the do-or-die nature of the struggle against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.

Make no mistake, you will have a real domino effect if the Al-Qaeda/ Taliban capture power. Hamid Karzai will probably meet the fate of Mohammed Najibullah, hung out from a lamppost (though Heaven forbid this should happen), and Pakistan will be overrun by the Al-Qaeda-directed ISI and military. The Pakistan military may split before this or after, or the Islamist generals may take over, and with that goes any secular control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The situation may so reverse that Al-Qaeda- and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will seek and gain strategic depth in Pakistan, and first threaten the Central Asian Islamic republics, then India in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere, and thereafter China and Iran in their vulnerable regions. The Islamists' morale will be high with the eviction of the sole superpower, the United States, from Afghanistan. With its economy in a meltdown, the US may not be a fearsome superpower if it loses Afghanistan, and American unilateralism has destroyed any immediate prospect of collective security co-guaranteed by Russia and China.

Rather than go shrill against Obama, the US leadership should concentrate on strategies to retrieve Afghanistan, and this won't be possible without considerable draw-down of troops from Iraq. Indeed, with Iraq somewhat stabilizing, the US might like to call upon its allies to once again shoulder the (lesser) burden of transitioning a peace there, while a surge is effected in Afghanistan. These and other strategies should be on the top of the mind of the American leadership, and presidential candidates would be well-advised not to make tough pronouncements that would be both impossible to follow through in office and ruin military operations on the ground. As a Vietnam War veteran, John McCain has a natural understanding of these issues, and Barack Obama gains nothing by revealing his ignorance.