Some lines are not meant to be crossed. If they are, pain ensues.US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman huddled with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi this weekend. He was accompanied by Special Assistant to President Obama on Afghanistan Douglas E. Lute. The details of what these men discussed are not known yet, beyond the official press handouts. Eleven months ago, in October 2011, the same three men plus one more, Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, met secretly in an intelligence agency safe house in Abu Dhabi. New York Times correspondent David Sanger describes in his latest book, Confront and Conceal, what happened in that meeting:“Sitting across a table, Donilon said to a chain-smoking Kayani: ‘I know you want a guarantee from us that we won’t undertake unilateral operations in your country again’, a reference to the bin Laden raid. ‘I can’t give you that’. If seventy Americans had died in the bomb attack on Wardak in the previous month, rather than just suffer injuries, ‘we wouldn’t be having this conversation’, Donilon said. It was a not-so-veiled threat that Obama would have been forced to send Special Operations Forces into Pakistan to attack the Haqqani network – national pride and sovereignty be damned. When Donilon was finished, Kayani laid out his demands – and the chasm between them was obvious. The United States, he said, could never, ever again violate Pakistani sovereignty with an attack like the one they launched on Osama bin Laden compound. That attack, he said, had been a personal humiliation. The Americans responded with silence. ‘That was the tensest moment’, one of the participants in the meeting noted, because it was an issue on which the two countries were never going to agree.”Since the Abbottabad raid, no red lines have been crossed – yet. With American elections less than two months away, the red lines for Barack Obama are redder than ever. These red lines essentially boil down to two scenarios:n  The Haqqani network, or some other group launches a spectacular attack on American forces in Afghanistan and inflicts heavy casualties;n  Al-Qaeda or its affiliates succeed in attacking mainland USA once again.If one or both of these scenarios play out, then as the Americans like to say, “all bets are off”. If the Americans conclude that Haqqanis are involved, their sanctuaries on Pakistani territory will become fair game. Obama will then be under tremendous pressure to cross General Kayani’s red line.If mainland USA is attacked, Al-Qaeda will be the obvious suspect. The two places where – according to the Americans – Al-Qaeda still has any presence, are Pakistan and Yemen. If they conclude the planning for the attack was done on Pakistani territory (recall Faisal Shahzad’s failed attack in New York City), Obama will again be under tremendous pressure to cross General Kayani’s red line.In other words, the Haqqani Network or Al-Qaeda have to cross the American red lines for the Americans to cross the Pakistani red lines.It is in no one’s interest that red lines be crossed. Otherwise, pain will ensue. And so will unintended consequences.Americans believe an aggressive drone strategy has degraded Al-Qaeda’s ability to launch an attack on mainland USA. They are not sure of the Haqqanis, even though a drone strike recently killed Jalaluddin Haqqani’s son and field commander Badruddin Haqqani. The American calculation is that an attack on mainland USA by Al-Qaeda is unlikely. However, an attack on US forces in Afghanistan by the Haqqanis, which can trigger red alerts for red line watchers, is quite possible. Al-Qaeda may be degraded, but the Haqqanis aren’t – yet.For the next two months, the American electorate is being force-fed the election narrative. Afghanistan as an issue is a marginal component of this grand narrative because both candidate Obama and candidate Romney do not have severe disagreements on the central theme: US troops withdrawal by 2014. Routine developments in Afghanistan may make headlines in Pakistan, but they do not figure much in the current American election narrative. However, the Haqqani network does. Mullah Omar does. Ayman al-Zawahiri does. Anything linked to them will immediately find prominence within this narrative.Here’s where Pakistan enters the US election narrative. The American voter does not know the name of the Pakistani President, but this voter believes Mullah Omar, Zawahiri and the Haqqanis are sanctuaried somewhere on Pakistani territory.Grossman, Lute and Kayani are clearly not meeting to discuss the upcoming T20 cricket world cup. The two American gentlemen would have told Kayani the importance of red lines two months before their presidential election. Kayani would have told the two American gentlemen the dangers lurking in the shadows if the red lines are crossed. Then the three of them would have discussed what to do to ensure the need does not arise for the red lines to be crossed.Dots are being connected. An important Haqqani has been devoured by the drones. Pakistan has given the Karzai government access to incarcerated Taliban commander Mullah Baradar. America has notified Haqqani network as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation and Pakistan has not protested publicly. Soon we may see some movement towards bringing Taliban (and Haqqanis?) to the negotiating table. President Zardari is heading to the US later this month to attend the UN General Assembly session. He will have plenty of time to meet key US decision-makers, while he is there. No one wants the red lines to be crossed, and everyone is eagerly working to minimise the likelihood of such an eventuality becoming a reality.Because if it does, all bets are off. And pain will ensue.

The writer is the host of “Tonight with Fahd” on Waqt News. Email: fahd.husain1@gmail.comTwitter: @fahdhusain