Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahri might allow themselves a mirthless smile at the thought of U.S. President George Bush unleashing U.S. commando raids in Pakistan without Islamabad's approval.
"They'd be gleefully looking at this as a great opportunity," said Nasim Zehra, an Islamabad-based defence analyst concerned over the prospect for more turmoil in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
If the United States sends troops across the border from Afghanistan, and its alliance with Pakistan is weakened, or, worse still, Pakistani forces try to repel them, who wins?
The answer to many Pakistani analysts is obvious -- al Qaeda, the Taliban and a host of Islamist militant groups who want the United States out of the region and Pakistan in chaos.
A week ago a helicopter-borne raiding party swept into a Pakistani border village and killed 20 people, including women and children. The New York Times reported on Thursday that Bush has given permission to unleash U.S. special forces in Pakistan to eliminate al Qaeda and Taliban targets.
If true, the militants should be worried. The special forces could decimate al Qaeda. They could even kill or catch one of its top leaders, bin Laden or Zawahri.
But the policy could also go horribly wrong. Analysts in Pakistan say it appeared to be a desperate decision by a U.S. president four months away from the end of his term.
"The U.S. homeland, no matter what, is relatively secure after 9/11. It's our homeland that is going to go down the drain," said Zehra, upset at the new government's lack of a coherent policy on internal security to stay America's hand.
FEAR OF ENCIRCLEMENT
There is no official confirmation that Bush has embarked on this course, and the scope of U.S. missions is unknown.
The United States may be hoping covert operations could reap swift rewards. But Pakistan is scared.
The risks are considerable for a new civilian government that just a month ago forced former army chief Pervez Musharraf to relinquish the presidency.
Pakistan's army insists it will protect its borders at all cost. Analysts wonder how it can back words with action given the nation's economic and military dependence on the United States.
"I've yet to see the Pakistan military turn round and say 'thanks but no thanks to your F-16 aircraft, we don't want your weapons'," said defence analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.
But the American lack of sensitivity risks losing an ally, albeit an arguably unreliable one, and could shut down an important source of intelligence.
Of course, there are grave suspicions that Pakistani intelligence has selectively protected militants in the region ever since Musharraf was strong-armed into supporting the U.S. war on terrorism in 2001.
But whatever the gripes, Pakistan has lost more men than the United States fighting militants in the region, and hundreds of al Qaeda have been eliminated.
Islamabad is unhappy that, despite these sacrifices, Washington pays no heed to Pakistani strategic interests.
The Pakistani military is very unhappy with American tolerance of India's growing influence in Afghanistan.
It fears encirclement. If U.S. forces start incursions it could have regional repercussions.
"It's going to increase tension between India and Pakistan," said Siddiqa.
Analysts see a deteriorating security situation in Indian Kashmir as partly a consequence of their rivalry in Afghanistan.
"The temperature is going up there and part of the reason is Afghanistan," said Siddiqa.
NO "PLAN B"
In the seven years since al Qaeda's Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Bush has alternated between cajoling and praising Pakistan for its support in the war against terrorism.
Analysts have criticised the U.S. administration's handling of its complicated ally throughout.
Should the United States and Pakistan remain on a collision course, Washington would risk destabilising a government it had helped get elected last February, without having any acceptable alternative to turn to.
It would also force moderate, progressive forces in Pakistan into retreat, and dramatically revive the fortunes of conservative religious parties who were trounced in the election.
"Pakistanis are very unhappy, it will lead to more anti-Americanism," said Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times and a respected political commentator.
"It will make life more difficult for the government and the army, create more tension in the coalition and give the media another stick with which to beat the government."
It would also risk tipping Pakistan's economy into full-blown crisis, with foreign currency already draining out of the central bank's coffers at an alarming rate.
It would extend the U.S. forces' theatre of operations, at a time when they are already stretched in Afghanistan.
Increased civilian casualties will inevitably lead to a backlash in ethnic-Pashtun lands straddling the border.
"You have a huge area where people are going to be affected, they're going to get angry and they're going to want to take revenge," Siddiqa said.
If Bush has authorised cross-border raids it is, according to analysts, either a very belated admission of failures, or a cynical attempt to sway the U.S. presidential election campaign in the Republican party's favour.
"Are these the kind of actions that Bush thinks will help his candidate in the election?" Zehra asked. "Because otherwise it is merely expanding the parameters of failure of U.S. policy from Iraq to Afghanistan and now here," said Zehra.
"If the United States sends troops across the border ... Pakistani forces try to repel them, who wins?" That's an excellent question. By expanding the theater of operations to include US boots on the ground in Waziristan, while it's already stretched in Afghanistan and Nato has refused cross-border operations, it is inconceivable US could get any significant advantage at the combined cost of large casualties, losing an ally, and weakening the State structure of the country enough for loss of all State writ to the imminent and severe anti-American backlash.
The Pakistani Tribals yesterday promised to invade Afghanistan in return with hundreds of thousands of men, and pledged to fight alongside the Army. PAF jets were scrambled to repel surveillance drones, and Kiyani cannot blink after his categorical undertaking.
If US has indeed decided on this incursion (as clearly indicated by recent statements emanating from Washington), it has to be accompanied with overt or covert actions along other borders - to dilute concentrated response on a single front.
Could yesterday's Delhi bombs be a covert attempt to drag in India to open up Pakistan's Eastern fronts?
It could be, except that India hasn't blamed Pakistan for the blasts. The caveat though would be 'Yet'. The blame for the previous blasts in Ahmedabad came after several days.
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