Guest contribution:What do regular Americans think about Pakistan?

October 7, 2008

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone.  Joshua Foust is a defence analyst who also writes an Afghanistan blog for Global Voices  and is a contributing editor to Registan.net, a blog devoted to Central Asia and the Caucasus.

                                           The view from the heartland

                                                    By Joshua Foust

In much of the hoopla over the American presidential election – including what to do about Pakistan and Afghanistan – the voices of regular Americans are often lost in the noise.

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain/Jim BourgAs someone who has studied Central Asia and American foreign policy for several years since graduating from University, I am perhaps not a typical voter. But I do live in Kansas City, Missouri – literally the centre of America.

So when I was invited to write for this blog about the popular conceptions here of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I initially froze: how does one make sense of what people think of a distant part of the world? I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out what I think, getting at what others do as well seemed an enormous task. Regardless, I could discern a few common themes by talking to those around me.

Belinda is a statistical programmer. Though she says she doesn’t read international news as much as she should, she considers herself reasonably well informed. “I think the US conducting raids into Pakistan could lead us down a bad path,” she said, referring to both drone-fired missiles and troop incursions into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. She continued, “I think we need to tread really carefully.”

Christine, an entomologist, took a somewhat more flippant attitude. “The United States decided to tar and feather some insurgents and so he sent our military to go blow up homes in Pakistan.”

Senator Joe Biden and Alaska governor Sarah Palin/Jim YoungThese two seemed perfectly representative of what I can only call “The Daily Show Set”-that is, those who watch John Stewart’s nightly mockery of the news. They see the need for caution, yet seem to feel they can have no influence over the choices of policy makers.

There is, as one might expect, a difference between white-collar professionals and blue-collar professionals. Jared, a plumber working for a commercial real estate management company, simply didn’t know what to think of it. “They seem like really tough people,” he said. “But I don’t know what else to think, ya know?”

I did know. Without pouring over the news and spending hours talking to those with a personal stake in matters there, it is difficult to form a solid opinion.

The challenge in being informed about Pakistan is most news sources simply do not discuss Pakistan (or the region as a whole) in any detail whatsoever, to say nothing of offering enough information to form opinions.

And the Presidential candidates have not helped matters much, either. No one I spoke to could say what the candidates have actually said about the region, though they all thought John McCain would probably take a military-first approach and Barrack Obama would take a more diplomatic route. But aside from generalities, people don’t seem to know what to think of the region.

There is universal agreement it is important, and that the United States needs to have an active presence in the area, but beyond this information is simply too scarce to draw deeper opinions.
 

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