Obama no friend of Pakistan-By Bilal Qureshi

DURING my recent trip to Pakistan, I noticed tremendous excitement about the possibility of Senator Barack Obama winning the presidency.

People seem to believe that he would be a friend of Pakistan. There is also a perception that since his middle name is Hussein, he is Muslim.

Both views are incorrect.

Barack Obama is no more Pakistan’s friend than George Bush or any other president in the past, and perhaps in the future as well. American friendship is based on American national interest, not personal preference of the man occupying the White House. Additionally, despite his Muslim middle name, Obama is a proud Christian and he has emphasised his Christian upbringing and his Christian faith on every occasion he was either asked, or he felt the need to explain it. Even his presidential website clearly elaborates that Obama is not Muslim.

Senator John McCain on the other hand doesn’t have the religious problem. Senator McCain, who is 71 years old and will be 72 in January 2009 when the new president takes over, has a different set of challenges. He is perceived as a warmonger, and as someone who is too eager and too quick to resort to the use of America’s military might, should there be a conflict involving American interest.

There is a genuine reason behind this concern about Senator McCain. John McCain’s father and grandfather were admirals in the United States Navy. McCain himself is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and he went on to become a naval aviator. McCain’s one son is in the navy and another son is in the Marine Corps. Some of his critics believe that because Senator McCain is too involved with the military due to close family and professional ties, and because he has not opposed any military action by the United States ever since McCain was elected to the Congress in 1982, he is more likely to militarily strike Iran, and even inside Pakistan if the situation continues to deteriorate according to American perspective, which runs contrary to Pakistan’s point of view.

A closer look at America’s foreign policy tells us that Americans don’t change overnight. Despite what any presidential candidate said during the campaign, American’s foreign policy is moulded slowly and cautiously. More importantly, the process of formulating a policy goes through a laborious process of discussions, meetings, dialogues and review amongst both elected officials and career professionals at the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council and numerous other institutions. Input is solicited from retired experts, civilians and academics.

The secretary of state is generally responsible for making suggestions to the president; the decision is only made after the president has exhausted every option available to him by discussing the matter with a broad range of experts across the board. The United State Senate and House of Representatives also plays a role in advising the president.

After all that is done, the president normally asks the secretary of state for additional information or answers and consults his national security advisor before settling on a new direction for the United States. Any change, especially if it has to be approved by the Congress is not easy because it is very unlikely that the Congress would accept everything that comes from the White House. Since Congress controls the money, it can exert tremendous pressure on the president to accept its recommendations. Therefore, it is quite safe to suggest that there won’t be any major change in terms of foreign policy, regardless of who becomes the president in January 2009, especially about Pakistan.

The only change we can see is the shifting attitude towards Pakistan. Senator Obama is on record about his intentions to hit inside Pakistan, unilaterally, if he has to deal with the threat. Delivering a speech in Washington in 2007, Obama said, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

Speaking on another occasion on July 15, 2008 in Washington, Barack Obama said, “I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy — one that recognises that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin.” This language is neither ambiguous nor wrapped in diplomatic code. It is simple, direct and clearly lays out Obama’s plan to act unilaterally if he sees it fit to move against the terrorists. The attacks on Pakistani territory in recent weeks are a clear example of the policy that is already in place.

However, in light of all this, it is very surprising to hear Pakistan’s foreign minister insist that Pakistan won’t allow allied forces to operate inside Pakistan. American forces don’t need Pakistan’s permission to launch an air attack, and just like they have done in the past, they would strike anywhere they feel they have a high-value target, either hiding or operating. This has been clear to anyone who was paying attention to America’s message. It is time for Pakistan’s Foreign Office to recognise the reality. It is also time for the country to evaluate Pakistan’s options and Pakistan’s future role in the conflict against terrorism.

John McCain has been equally tough about terrorising the terrorists and he too won’t hold back fire if he has information about a valuable target inside Pakistan. American presidents make decisions based on the advice they receive from the experts and there is virtually no difference between Senator Obama and Senator McCain, especially in dealing with terrorists that these two candidates believe are hiding inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. If we still believe that there is going to be any change, and by change if we expect to be left alone by Washington, we are being naïve.

Nothing is going to change and if anything, Washington is going to demand more and more from Islamabad in the coming days. You can count on it.

Source: Daily dawn, 18/9/2008

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