Obama and Pakistan-By Prof Khwaja Masud

MR Obama’s ‘tough’ remarks about Pakistan delivered during his recent visit to Afghanistan, the ‘tone’ of the remarks, and his subsequent flip-flopping on the issue have been meticulously parsed in our press to detect signs of ‘softening’ in his attitude towards us.

But the general, rather hasty, conclusion of this exercise is that the prospect of his presidency should be a source of apprehension for us. This kind of discussion is unhelpful, and the conclusion is misconstrued.

Rather, as this article attempts to do, we need to parse Mr Obama’s remarks against the backdrop of our national interests, which they do not promote, and present a strong case to reject them.

While we do so we should bear in mind that Mr Obama is a product of Chicago’s corrupt politics, where slum barons like his former mentor and financial benefactor Mr Rizko rule the roost, and where what you see in a politician is not what you will get. “In Chicago,” Saul Bellow famously noted, “politics and crime occasionally overlap.”

Mr Obama lacks Mrs Clinton’s strength of personality. Mrs Clinton bravely champions the working class in the heart of the world capitalist system and put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. No wonder she is so despised by the American media and Karl Rove.

Mr Obama has been called a person of “seasonal principles” and a “standard-issue politician who will say and do anything to get elected.” The Economist has also noted “disquieting signs” that Mr Obama tends to “tailor his message to whichever audience he is talking to.”

So whatever Mr Obama says about us now is no indication as to what his position would be as president. Unfortunately, this means that the ad-hocism that mars our relations with America may continue in an Obama presidency.

If, therefore, we are to be apprehensive it should be about the prospect of yet another weak and malleable American president who, like President Bush, may be prone to blunder into foreign policy catastrophes.

Fortunately, Mr Obama’s victory in the upcoming election is not as certain as our pundits believe. Like a passing fad his lead over a very weak Republican opponent is diminishing. It is now down to only a handful of points, according to the latest Rasmussen poll. And the Republican sleaze machine has yet to unleash its ferocious attack dogs to puncture Mr Obama’s Wizard of Oz mystique as it did with Mr Kerry’s Vietnam war hero mystique.

Mr Obama is not wrong about not ruling out the possibility of unilateral American action inside our territory, which is ‘current doctrine’. Anything otherwise would turn combat missions against the Taliban into Mickey Mouse expeditions! But publicly announcing this is not current doctrine, and it is wrong to change it.

Broadcasting his ‘hot pursuit’ incursions into our territory and cross-border shelling into our land broadcasts his unashamed disregard of international law and principles, and gives the enemy ample justification to claim the high moral ground of defending Islam against an infidel invading force. The Financial Times correctly says this will “only strengthen religious extremists inside the country.”

Mr Obama is also wrong because he fails remarkably to recognise the new ground reality.

He would be right with the old ground reality, that is a military regime obsessed with the Indian menace, concentrating US aid on conventional armaments to prepare for war with India, nibbling ineffectually at the Taliban problem, and sacrificing hundreds of our brave soldiers by “playing footsie with the Taliban.”

But this is no longer the ground reality. The new reality is epitomised by Prime Minister Gilani’s recent address to the nation: “This war is our war, and we will fight it as our war.” The prime minister has also stopped the war dances on the eastern front, and ordered the army to quell the Taliban with good initial successes.

According to Robert Novak of The Washington Post these successes contradict “claims by Musharraf, his generals and friends in the US government that an elected civilian regime would slack off in the war against terror…. Money from Washington now flows into counter-guerrilla activities … and more raids in lawless tribal areas are planned.” Novak adds that the current assault against the Taliban by the civilian government was predicted to him by Benazir Bhutto last year, implying that it is not a knee-jerk reaction but a strategic policy shift.

All this is evidence that the civilian government has shown good judgment and decisive leadership in tackling the festering Taliban problem. Regrettably Mr Obama does not get this.

He should get it, because it is so vital now to strengthen the hand of our government in this fight. If Mr Obama is sincere about eradicating extremism he should declare full support for our government’s current effort, and announce additional steps to further build our counter-insurgency capacity.

He should also seriously follow up on Senator Biden’s proposal to triple development assistance to us to $1.5bn per year, and to develop our relations on firmer foundations in a mutually beneficial longer-term partnership. This kind of economic partnership will create economic opportunities in our country and prevent our young citizens from volunteering to blow themselves up.

Mr Obama’s ‘tough’ remarks about Pakistan led to a ‘butterfly effect’ that set off a storm in the local press. Though, in essence, only a storm in a teacup it is a fine tribute to the work of the mathematician Edward Lorenz who died recently in Cambridge. Lorenz coined the term ‘butterfly effect’ to describe how small changes such as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly may alter global weather conditions.

If, like Lorenz’s butterfly, Mr Obama hoped to create a storm in America and upend his Republican opponent by being ‘tough’ with us he should be disappointed, because his misconstrued remarks only reinforce his image of a vulnerable prospective commander-in-chief.

The writer is former principal of Gordon College, Rawalpindi.

Source: Daily Dawn, 30/7/2008

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