Obama victory: why it matters-By Nasim Zehra

The Obama win is a great win; essentially an epoch-making one for the Americans. This is America at its best, the American system at its best. It has proved to be a true equaliser in the game of power politics. †The Obama win says “Öno matter what your colour creed or class, if you have the courage of conviction and the passion to pursue a dream, dreams can come true.” Also, the Obama win is a vivid rejection of the current leadership.

Globally, too, the Obama win seems to give the spirit a lift — the shared joy from the definitive triumph of one of yesterday’s underdog. My mother, who had only recently finished reading Obama’s book “Dream From My father” had long declared Obama the winner. She marvelled though at the rapidity with which the fate of the Afro-Americans changed from the time in the early Fifties when as a visitor to the United States she would stand between benches in public parks, marked for the blacks and for the whites, wondering where to sit!

World over people also rejoice the rejection by majority Americans of George Bush’s blundering politics. They voted to sweep it away. Globally, the immediate impact of the Obama win will be a degree of respect for American voters. They have said no to a party whose president as a globe divider, a unilateralist and an interventionist pursued a disastrous neo-imperialist policy. People now await a saner policy from the White House. Democrats control both Houses of Congress and the presidency. The nation has handed Obama a mandate to reform within the US and the world.

Expressions of joy from American friends have been pouring in. Friends who have patiently sat through endless blasting of Bush’s criminal blunders are now ecstatic. “Obama is our Mandela!!! — and he has made us all proud to be American again!” messaged one. “This is a momentous day, bobby and I were active in the civil rights movement and the image of his two daughters brings back awful memories of the murdered girls in Alabama in those dark days. We’re ecstatic,” was the response of a friend I had e-mailed to congratulate. “Now it will be less much difficult to be an American overseas!” said another. “This is my America” quipped one from the Midwest. For the Asian-Americans, the common message has been “Spirits have not been so high in a long time”. Rightly so. In what has been the largest voter turnout in the US since the Twenties, Obama bagged majority of the women’s votes, Hispanic and black votes. If it took 40 years from the passage of the Congressional bill that allowed the blacks to vote for a black man to win the election, it took just as long for the states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to vote for the Democrats. Last they had voted for the Democrats in 1964.

Pakistanis grudgingly share the global excitement of Mr Obama’s victory. Grudgingly, because many Pakistanis have not forgotten the president-elect’s campaign rhetoric of possibly attacking Pakistani territory to combat terrorism. Pakistanis, who know better the complexity of the terrorism problem and who bear the high costs of this violence (in recent years as many as 3,000 military and paramilitary and many more thousands of civilians have been killed) found Obama’s resolve to attack their territory both aggressive and naÔve.

This notwithstanding, Pakistanis at the same time hope for and expect Obama, as president, to be more patient, wiser and more multilateralist in the conduct of US foreign policy. There is also expectation in Pakistan that behind his combative electioneering rhetoric exists a more informed outlook that will determine America’s choices.

Many pin their hopes on the wisdom espoused by one of Obama’s foreign policy advisers, the highly experienced Zbigniew Brzezinski. Many in Pakistan watched in mid-October Brzezinski’s interview on the BBC show “Hard Talk”, in which the former National Security adviser the next US president to be mindful of the intrinsic importance of a strategic country of 160 million people, instead of only viewing its significance through the prism of Afghanistan.

The aura built up around America’s first black president, embodying new leadership and “change”, has given many here the hope that Obama will empathise with the troubled state of Pakistan’s own homeland security. Obama must understand that Pakistan, like no other country, is faced with a war-like situation. Pakistan needs support and partnership not lectures or veiled threats.

The Obama administration’s Pakistan policy will have to remain mindful of Pakistan’s legitimate security interests. It must focus on ensuring internal stability through a stable, functioning democratic system and an effective writ of the state across the country.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s external security concerns — in particular its relations with two key neighbours, Afghanistan and India — must be addressed. While relations with both neighbours are on the mend, border matters, refugee issues and security issues with Afghanistan require settlement, Pakistanis hope that Obama will heed the voices of American and Nato generals who are fast concluding that 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s problems lie within the country: that there is correlation between an increasingly beleaguered and controversial Karzai government and the Taliban’s expanding control over Afghan territory. They resent Washington’s singular focus on Pakistan being the primary source of Afghanistan’s security situation. Recognising the failure of his government’s Afghan policy, the newly appointed Centcom commander has already called for dialogue with the Taliban.

Since 2007, Pakistanis have been targeted by around 90 suicide bombings. They consider themselves as the prime victims of terrorism. No less a front-line state against it. On the eve of Obama’s election, Pakistan hosted two US guests, the newly appointed Centcom commander Gen Petraeus and Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State. On the election day, a suicide bombing attack targeting a security check-post killed seven Pakistanis. The same day in a sign of the clamour among Pakistanis that the government be more vehement in its spread over from Lahore, the heart of Pakistan, the Lahore Press Club issued a nationwide call for November 5 against US attacks and against the Taliban. Such is the complexity of the challenge that Pakistan’s involvement in the GOWT poses to Pakistan’s democratic government.

Similarly, with India understanding is hoped for when it comes to serious bilateral engagement on the unresolved Kashmir issue, Pakistanis welcomed Obama’s acknowledgement that its resolution would help reduce Pakistan’s militancy problem — one of the last statements Obama made before ending his election campaign. But there is also a list of other unresolved matters with India, including disputes over Siachen Glacier and the Sir Creek, matters of overland transit rights to India and the India-Pakistan pipeline.

Perhaps for Pakistan, the most significant problem with India is the claim that Pakistan has not been given its rightful share of Chenab water divided between the countries. For Pakistan, the crucial question is whether India can now use river waters as a weapon against Pakistan. The arbitration clause allows the two countries to take disputes to a World Bank-appointed neutral expert. As Pakistan deals with these matters bilaterally, it does not expect unsolicited lecturing from the new US administration.

At the same time, with Obama in office, there is expectation that Washington’s soft power may come to the fore in promoting the US foreign policy objectives in the region. Many Pakistanis, especially those living in the Northwest Frontier Province — the worst-hit province by terrorism and war — now hope for fewer US drone attacks on Pakistani territory and a friendlier, more humane engagement.

With great expectations, Pakistanis now await change in Washington’s policy towards this region. More sobriety in conduct and more sincerity of purpose from the Obama administration and a more coherent and credible policy formulation by Pakistan may lead to greater convergence of Pakistan-US policy goals. Greater cooperation is only possible within the framework of genuine dialogue, greater trust and mutual respect.

Meanwhile, for the Americans, with their government’s global engagements, the joy of this victory will be sustainable in a safer and a more harmonious world. The indivisibility factor flowing from a common human destiny and a shared fate makes genuine multilateralism indispensable. America’s softer talk, ‘soft power’ and more lawful global conduct could make that working together so much more easier.



2 thoughts on “Obama victory: why it matters-By Nasim Zehra”

  1. Obama, or no Obama, American foreign policy is always based on a single agenda, to push American national interest across the world, many a times in the most blatant way. Bush did this in an aggressive hawkish way, Obama will probably do it in a less aggressive subtle way. It would however be unwise to expect a lot to happen out of Obama initiatives, as American bullying power has blunted over the years and major nations are not going to be easily pushed around by the Obama administration. All outstanding global issues have to be dealt with regionally and bilaterally, rather than expecting Obama to appear with a magic wand and conjuring up one miracle after another.
    Too mush of enthusiasm on part of Obama without paying adequate attention to the sensitivities of other nations and walking a Bill Clintonian line, could also be counter productive for the US.

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