The sum of all expectations —Mahmud Sipra

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mahmudsipraIf Pakistan decides to play ball for its own good, fine, but if it continues to believe that it is the only conduit for supplies to US troops embedded in Afghanistan, a rethink in Islamabad might well be in order

Years ago, a young and talented singer called Billy Joel came up with a hit song that became almost an anthem. It was titled: “We didn’t start the fire”. It hit the high notes with a compendium of events that had shaped the world before us and of the brash and bold world of our times then.

Today, somewhere, a new singer, rapper, lyricist is plucking away at his guitar while sitting in front of his Mac as he tries to set to music the familiar polemic of the Bush years — “with us or against us” — and tells of an America being “only one of the two super powers in the world, the other being world opinion.”

President Obama is expected to change the tune of such discordant notes that America has been identified with for the past eight years.

Perhaps it is that world opinion that brought the inhabitants of this planet in different time zones in unprecedented numbers to watch America place the mantle of leadership on to the shoulders of its new president.

President Obama inherits an America in financial crisis; a world in economic turmoil; two wars, with one of them threatening to become an even larger area of conflict; and a planetary environment that is suffering the onslaught of irresponsible industrial excess.

Given his cross-cultural background and having read the lips of the majority of his fellow Americans and the rest of the world, he will be taking that first walk to the Oval Office to the beat of a different drum; unilateralism having now departed and replaced by the cadence of a new buzzword “multilateralism”. Just how soon Mr Obama starts walking the talk of this new mantra is expected to become evident in his first 100 days in office.

His inaugural address perhaps disappointed those that were looking for quotable lines in the style that John F Kennedy or Ronald Reagan delivered theirs. President Obama’s speech addressed his world audience by focusing on an America that needed to reinvent and reinvigorate itself. To those who would disrupt the world and seek to impose a regime of terror and destruction, he sent out the stark warning: “We will defeat you”.

A message that ought to be heeded by those who have had a relatively free run in the contiguous and uncharted area that makes up Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It needs to be emphasised that unlike his predecessor, President Obama will not be required to prove the existence of “weapons of mass destruction” to justify and to augment the existing presence of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. If Pakistan decides to play ball for its own good, fine, but if it continues to believe that it is the only conduit for supplies to US troops embedded in Afghanistan, a rethink in Islamabad might well be in order.

That “save your powder for the real enemy” mindset also needs to be revisited. Better to do it on one’s own rather than to be told to do it. Kabuki may be a Japanese word for theatre but its relevance here should not be lost on anyone. In simplistic terms, know your lines and stick to the script.

There are many areas and internal problems that Pakistan is facing which threaten its very existence, where President Obama, despite his inestimable qualities, will be unable to help. The lessons of what happened to America’s ill conceived plans to bridge the Shia/Sunni divide in Iraq will be fresh in his mind. That the same problem is now rearing its ugly head in Pakistan as well is something that no American administration will be willing to find itself embroiled in.

Pakistan’s sectarian and ethnic mix has always been a sensitive subject that Pakistan has handled with maturity and reverence for the past sixty years. But that was before Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their misguided satellites started running out of fertile ground, safe havens and impoverished young recruits considered a soft touch. That climate can only change if Pakistan grits it teeth and reaches deep within itself and finds the moral and political will to root out the elements that are devouring it.

The appointment of Richard Holbrooke as President Obama’s “special envoy” to the quartet comprising Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, while signalling a fresh approach, may not be as welcome to India as it might be to the other three. India would much rather have Bill Clinton, but he may not be acceptable to the other three. It is too early to start second guessing the new president but there is a very impatient world out there that, having grown weary after eight years of Bush and Cheney, is now expecting this bold new young American president to start setting their world right.

Tough call, but nobody said it was going to be easy.

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at

Reproduced by permission of the author and DT\01\22\story_22-1-2009_pg3_2


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