One unfortunate thing may join the controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbasat Ali al-Megrahi, and the creeping Taliban/ Al-Qaeda re-dominance of Afghanistan. It is the growing evidence of US incompetence -- and impotence -- in the face of international terrorism. Those in India, including the new media hero, Jaswant Singh, who consider (and swear by) America as the natural leader of the world, should pause and think about this.

Take the Lockerbie case first. The United States is now railing against the Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, who said he released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he was terminally ill with cancer. al-Megrahi was the only one to be convicted for the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing in 1988 in which two-seventy passengers and crew perished. al-Megrahi returned to Libya to a hero's welcome, and it transpires that the quid-pro-quo was that Libya-Britain oil and other trades would be "positively" advanced, although the UK denies this. UK PM George Brown has gone into veritable hiding without making a statement, but his ministers say criminal justice is devolved to Scotland, and as such, Britain cannot be blamed for Scotland's decision.

Britain has been a failing great power since the Suez Crisis (and its covert services have slept with terrorists), but how to explain US -- and particularly Barack Obama's -- failure to stop al-Megrahi's release? Did the US apply pressure on the UK and Scotland to bar al-Megrahi's freedom? If it did apply the pressure, why didn't it work? Was adequate pressure not applied, or was no pressure applied? Did president Obama get carried away by the UK and Scotland's suggestions (assuming they were made) that this "liberal" gesture of freeing al-Megrahi would win him points in his attempts at engaging the Muslim world? So how did it boomerang? Did Libya's strongman, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, pledge not to celebrate al-Megrahi's homecoming, but broke his promise as he was always meant to?

Sadly, nearly nobody in the United States is asking these hard questions of president Obama. The FBI director and US military brass are now excoriating Scotland, but this is akin to locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. The message in this for international terrorist groups is that the West, including the United States, has no staying power against them, and that their terror strategies will prevail sooner than later.



That message is already being played out in another terrorist killing field, Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, the US chairman, joint chief of staff, in frank interviews to NBC and CNN, said that it would take at least twelve to eighteen months to "turn around" the situation in Afghanistan, but he didn't sound hopeful at that. "Afghanistan is very vulnerable in terms of Taliban and the extremists taking over again, and I don't think that threat is going to go away," Admiral Mullen said. "They still plot against us." Then he added for good measure, "Across [the Afghanistan] border in Pakistan, they (the Taliban and other extremists) provide the safe haven for al-Qaeda. They also feed fires into Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda would very much like to see Kabul become the capital that it was before essentially run by extremists."

And who is giving state support for the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan? Pakistan. In the context of the Afghan elections, Reuters quoted two Afghanistan experts, Kamran Bokhari of Stratfor, and a veteran Pakistani journalist, Rahimullah Yusufzai. Their more-or-less common perception of what lies ahead in Afghanistan can be expressed through this composite quote. "Ultimately, the Pakistanis are waiting to be told by Washington: ‘Please bring to bear your Taliban resources so we can somehow begin a process of a negotiated settlement...' What Pakistan can do is hope that, if there's a deal with the Taliban and they can get a share of power, through them Pakistan could influence events in Afghanistan." Which means, for India, the imminent threat of Pakistan gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan against it, and effectively shutting any Indian approaches via Afghanistan to the oil and gas riches of the Central Asian states. For the United States, it translates into this. Once the Taliban with Pakistani backing is in Kabul, the Al-Qaeda will be poised to return to its pre-Operation Enduring Freedom pre-eminence. Which means a dramatic upsurge of a second 9/ 11 threat.

The one thing which should prevent this tragic repetition of history is for the United States to pursue Pakistan till it eliminates the Al-Qaeda and Taliban, and destroys all their terrorist links to the Pakistan army and ISI. But that step the United States baulks from taking. It has probably not even been seriously considered. The Lockerbie outrage was one indication of the US's inability or unwillingness to flex its muscles with its closest allies (and kin countries, if you will). It is being repeated all over again in Afghanistan. The US knows of the building Al-Qaeda threat to its mainland, but it won't move decisively against Pakistan.

Should India put all its eggs in this fragile US basket?