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Will South Asia be witness to Armageddon?

April 06, 2009 17:56 IST

9/11 has given birth to a virtual industry in writing books on jihad and terrorism, mainly non-fiction. Many authors, mainly of Pakistani origin, have had a field day. But it is unusual find an American author, apparently of South Asian origin, dealing with the subject. Jihad: from Hindukush to Armageddon by Sunita Joshi-Ford and published by Eloquent Books, New York, is a book in a different league altogether. A fiction set in the year 2020, it gives a scary scenario of the times to come.

I first read the book last September and dismissed it out of hand. A sea-borne attack on Mumbai? The author must be out her mind, I thought. But then came the 26/11 attack on Mumbai and I dusted the book and began to re-read it. But more was to follow, the Lahore attack of last week, the take over of Swat by the Taliban and suddenly the takeover of the Pakistani state by terrorists was no longer in the realm of fiction anymore! What if the terrorists had targeted the nuclear installation instead of Taj hotel? I began to wonder. Seems that Sunita Joshi-Ford had predicted the future.

The story of Armageddon in South Asia begins in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

"At precisely 9 pm local time, the lights went out all over Karachi city, a common enough occurrence as load shedding (power shortage) was endemic. In Ivory Towers the lights came on briefly as the automatic generator switched on, but only for a brief period, followed by a loud bang suggesting that the generator was dead. With the fail-safe generator back up, nobody had thought of keeping candles. Cyrus was furious and told the manager to quickly arrange for some candles from the bazaar. The Marines were waiting for precisely this moment. In a flash, a section of them went to the front gate and secured it. Another group went to the lobby and shut the doors. Ivory Towers was now isolated from the rest of the city.

At that very moment two Black Hawk helicopters from the USS Nimitz approached the hotel. While the first one landed a group of Delta Force, the second hovered over to ward off any reaction. As the Commandos made their way to the 25th floor and to the Kohinoor suite, there was panic on the floor. Children screamed and wives shouted. All this added to the confusion caused by the black out. Just then two shots rang out, as the mujahids guarding the suite opened fire on the Americans. It took less than 30 seconds for Major Jonathan Holt to enter the room and announce, "The game is up, Mr Rashid! Surrender or you are dead." As he flashed his torch-light he saw a naked man standing in front of him. But for the firm CIA directive, he would have sworn that this man was anybody but OBL. A clean shaven, round faced man was a far cry from the pictures of OBL that he had seen. Then a calm voice, by now familiar to the whole world due to his taped messages, told Major Jonathan Holt in chaste English,"I will come with you but do not harm my family!"

The operation to capture Osama Bin Laden was codenamed Operation Falcon. While the Americans have been publicly declaring that their goal was the capture or killing of Osama Bin Laden, it was not such a simple matter. The author has summed up the American dilemma,

"As the Secretary of State finished, there was a silence as members of the NSC absorbed the finer points of his presentation on Operation Falcon. It would seem that the capture of OBL would enhance the threat of a terrorist nuclear attack on the US. The President readily accepted the assessment but posed a question,

"Will keeping OBL free and at large to carry on his activities, diminish that threat? No, at some point in time OBL may launch not just an isolated terrorist attack but even may accumulate several nukes to launch a concerted attack using 'unconventional' means of delivery."

The book then goes on to describe the riots and attacks that take place on the American targets in the Muslim world. As the story proceeds, the plot thickens and Al Qaeda now demands that Pakistanis fulfill their promise of making available the nuclear weapons to attack the 'Great Satan', the US. But the Pakistani dilemma is that they have limited number of nuclear weapons and those they must keep to tackle India. How do the Pakistanis and Al Qaeda resolve this apparently insoluble problem? What happens in India? Do the terrorists manage to hit the US with nuclear weapons?

I will not reveal any more and urge the readers to read the book! A friend of mine who borrowed the book, told me that after reading it he could not sleep throughout the night! It is indeed a powerful though disturbing book. Those interested in burying their heads in sand need not take the trouble to read it.

As I came to the end of the book, I tended to agree with the author that this is a work of fiction that is meant to raise the red flag and draw attention to the looming danger of the terrorists using Pakistani nuclear weapons. As an eminent strategist at Harvard University, Graham T Allison has said "It is not a question of whether but when the terrorists will use nuclear weapons."

The Lahore attack has shown how close to our gates the Barbarians have reached.

Jihad: from Hindukush to Armageddon by Sunita Joshi-Ford. Published by Eloquent Books.

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is a former joint director, war studies, ministry of defence, and co-ordinator of the Pune-based Initiative for Peace and Disarmament.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale