Pakistan’s “American Dream”

November 4, 2008

Pakistan cropped up with uncomfortable regularity during the U.S. presidential campaign, but listening to Barack Obama and John McCain it was difficult to discern how different their approach would be in dealing with one of America’s most complicated and conflicted allies.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari met leaders of both the Democrat and Republican camps just weeks after his own election in September, but unfortunately the controversy stirred by his unguarded compliment for Sarah Palin earned more comment than the substance of those meetings.


During his campaign, Obama stated his readiness to order U.S. forces to undertake operations on Pakistani territory to eliminate al Qaeda or terrorist threats if Pakistan was unprepared or unable to act.

McCain admonished Obama for saying such things out loud as it created diplomatic problems for an allied government, yet there was little to suggest that McCain would behave differently in terms of military strategy.
Most Pakistanis are left to conclude that whoever wins today’s election, there will be more American troops in Afghanistan, more unrest in the ethnic Pashtun belt either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border, more U.S. missile strikes, and the constant threat that U.S. ground troops will be let off the leash in Pakistani tribal lands.

An Obama victory is widely expected, though the chances of McCain springing a surprise haven’t been written off.

In an opinion piece in The News on the day of the U.S. election, columnist Mosharraf Zaidi , clearly a fan of  Obama, argued why ordinary Pakistanis, if not necessarily the government, should welcome a Democrat victory regardless of his clear intention to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban even if it meant crossing the border.

In his article titled Ready for Change,  Zaidi expressed hope that Obama would represent a return to ideals which  the United States was at least once admired for . 

More than McCain, Zaidi argues, Obama has the intellect and multicultural background to grasp the consequences of Pakistan’s troubled upbringing since the Partition of India in 1947 when he looks at geo-strategic relationships in South Asia. He sees Obama backing Pakistani democracy and Pakistani people rather than engaging the elite.

Even if Obama can deliver promised change in the United States, hoping it will translate to Washington’s dealings with Pakistan could require a leap of faith given the hardening of U.S. security compulsions over the past seven years.

But after the depressing times Pakistan has suffered, and is still going through, perhaps Zaidi is right to suspend cynicism and hope American influence in his country will become a more positive force.

Are others in Pakistan also letting hope conquer cynicism?


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