Pakistan’s stake —Syed Mansoor Hussain

Irrespective of who wins this election, Pakistan should be able to extract important concessions from the US, especially if it is able to pacify the extremist elements within its own territory and develop its democratic system

There is a feeling within Pakistan, especially among the literati and the talking heads on TV, that the United States — the White House, CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, Congress and Joe Six-pack — is totally obsessed with Pakistan.

US policy makers have many priorities, but at this time their major concern is the financial meltdown in the US, which is possibly about to spread to Europe. In this matter, Pakistan clearly has little, if any, relevance.

The upcoming US election will be fought over economic issues. Barring a terrorist attack on the US mainland, the economy will remain the primary election concern for the candidates and as is often said, most Americans will vote for their ‘pocketbooks’.

For the next three weeks, the dynamics of electioneering will force candidates to take positions and make statements that will at best have only a modest bearing on how exactly they will govern once elected. However, for the next four months, it will still be the present administration that determines policy.

President George W Bush is of course trying his best to contain the financial crisis but his other major pre-occupations are the wars he started in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I do not think that President Bush is terribly concerned about the US elections at this time.

With just another four months left, President Bush is most worried about his legacy. And his legacy is going to be primarily the floundering military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, though it seems his legacy is going to be further sullied by the present financial crisis.

So what about Pakistan? Over the next few months, nothing much is going to change. The present administration will continue its policy of trying to kill or, if possible, capture a high profile Al Qaeda figure, their dream victim being Osama bin Laden. As such, we in Pakistan can expect more US attacks on our side of the Durand line.

More importantly, it is useless for Pakistan to get involved in any serious negotiation with the present US government about long-term goals. What we should do is wait and hope for the best, and when the new administration is in place, try and develop both an understanding as well as a mutually acceptable plan of action to combat terrorism.

And now to the question I started with. If the Republican candidate wins the election, and the financial crisis is contained, then we will see more of the same with minor variations. Most Pakistanis believe that the Republicans are more supportive of Pakistan than the Democrats. That is no longer as true as it used to be.

The great danger of a Republican victory unfortunately is that it might only happen if the racist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments of the US voters are fully exploited. Once this evil genie is out of the bottle, nobody can predict how an administration that is elected on the shoulders of such a genie will treat American Muslims and Muslim countries like Pakistan.

And if the present financial crisis worsens, the resultant economic deprivation in the US might augment and intensify this xenophobic impulse. That will definitely not be good for Pakistan and its neighbours to the west, particularly as far as the ‘war on terror’ is concerned. In the present circumstances, a Republican victory will probably not auger well for future US-Pakistan relations.

As far as the Democrats are concerned, the Pakistani establishment has always been wary of them. The reason is that the Democrats prefer to deal with a democratic set-up and look at dictatorships, however benevolent, with considerable disdain. Sadly, Pakistan has never had a sustained democracy that could develop a reasonable relationship with the Democratic Party and its leaders.

So if Senator Barack Obama is elected president and the Democrats also control Congress, how will Pakistan fare? Senator Obama has made many statements critical of Pakistan’s role in the Afghan campaign. He has supported incursions into Pakistani territory if the US finds terrorist targets that the Pakistani security forces are not willing or capable of neutralising.

Does this mean that a President Obama will be willing to do to Pakistan what President Nixon did to Cambodia during the Vietnam War? I do not think so. Considering Senator Obama’s stated policy about US behaviour in the international arena, one thing is clear: he is not willing to expand military operations without severe provocation.

More importantly, as a real ‘African American’, a President Obama will have greater empathy for the needs of third world countries as well as Muslims. Whether this translates into any particular benefit for countries like Pakistan remains to be seen. Clearly, what Pakistan does to put its own house in order and how its nascent democracy evolves will be an important factor.

However, there are certain basic security interests of the US that will remain important to any future administration. Of these, a major one is terrorism and by extension the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation. The ultimate nightmare for the US is an attack on the US mainland with ‘rogue’ nuclear weapons. It is for this reason more than any other that in future years, the stability of Pakistan will remain a major US priority.

As such, irrespective of who wins this election, Pakistan should be able to extract important concessions from the US, especially if it is able to pacify the extremist elements within its own territory and develop its democratic system.

Whatever the purveyors of doom and gloom in Pakistan might say, the fact is that Pakistan is in a unique position at this time to convert its much touted ‘geo-political’ advantages into real economic and security advantages. The US needs Pakistan almost as much as Pakistan needs the US.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 13/10/2008


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