Perspectives on Pakistan
Pakistani-Americans looking to Obama to ease rhetoric
Is U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama going to heed calls from Pakistani-Americans to tone down his statements on hunting militants inside Pakistan ?
Democrat Obama and Republican candidate John McCain face off in a final debate in New York state on Wednesday night.
While the global financial crisis will likely overshadow everything else, the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, now seen as the central front against al Qaeda, is sure to figure high in the foreign policy segment of the debate, as happened in the previous two meetings. The war in Iraq has actually faded from view in the election, as this Reuters analysis says, and the focus instead is on Pakistan, Iran and the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
Soon after last week’s debate, where Obama reiterated his long-held position of going after targets inside Pakistan if Islamabad was unable or unwilling to do so, a group of Pakistani-Americans and anti-war activists wrote to him urging restraint, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“We are particularly concerned with your public pronouncements earlier this week in support of violating the borders of our ally, the country of Pakistan. . . . You must understand the sweeping dismay that your avowed support for U.S. military incursions into Pakistan . . . has elicited among untold numbers of Pakistani-Americans and peace activists across the country,” the group said in the letter sent to Obama’s Chicago office.
The newspaper also quoted the host of a Pakistani radio talk show in Chicago as saying the U.S. was making a “mistake” by “attacking Pakistan and making Pakistan your enemy.”
Obama has said he wasn’t advocating the invasion of Pakistan, but that taking out militants, including bin Laden, had to be the “biggest national security priority”. McCain chided his rival, saying he would rather work with the Pakistani government instead of threatening attacks.
(You can read what the two candidates said on foreign policy during the last debate here.)
Pakistanis are also trying to read the tea leaves, especially in the event of an Obama presidency, as his lead over McCain widens. South Asia Investor Review, a blog on issues on the subcontinent, has been going over comments by former CIA officer Bruce Riedel who the New York Times identified as a key member of the Obama foreign policy team, specializing on India, Pakistan and South Asia.
“Obama is determined to put a lot more resources into the war in Afghanistan – and it’s overlapped into Pakistan – than either a McCain presidency would or the Bush administration did,” Riedel is quoted as saying by South Asia Investor Review. For Obama Afghanistan and Pakistan are “the central front of the war against al Qaeda and the war against extremism” according to Riedel.
“Translation: The war in Afghanistan will escalate and expand into Pakistan,” says the South Asia Investor Review.
But another Pakistani blog has pitched for Obama, saying while there wasn’t much of a difference between the two candidates over the approach to Pakistan, the Democrat appeared to propose a quick clean up of the mess there. McCain, by contrast, was proposing “a slow but extensively drawn out plan of action, which I feel actually means a long term American presence in Pakistan,” said Teeth Maestro, a blog that has been closely covering nuances of the debate on Pakistan in the U.S. election.
“If they are both generally coming with the same mindset then I feel I would carefully put my eggs into Obama’s basket,” the blog’s author said.