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What Pakistan has to say about the US polls

Updated November 06, 2012
US voters line up to cast their vote on Election Day. — Photo Reuters
US voters line up to cast their vote on Election Day. — Photo Reuters

There’s little doubt that the world remains enthralled with American politics. No other election on the planet receives a similar amount of attention.

The term Leader of the Free World to describe the president of the United States has seemingly become defunct, but as the only superpower and the world’s largest military, the American Presidency still plays a pivotal role in shaping the global order.

Pakistan’s relationship with the United States has been a turbulent marriage ever since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the sense that whoever sits in the Oval Office of the White House has a direct and immediate impact on the lives of Pakistanis is definitely real.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 was a catalysing force around the world, giving hope to people of a more nuanced and calculated view of the world.

“Many Pakistanis were disillusioned by the tenure of Obama,” says Yousuf Nasim, a Karachi-based lawyer. “For some reason they held the strange view that Obama’s promise of change was directed at them rather than at the US electorate. They were therefore shocked to discover a muscular foreign policy shift against Pakistan under the incumbent US administration.”

But Nasim was unequivocal about who he wants to see in the White House: Obama. The reason, he says, is that “it is clear that under the Obama administration, the US is now deeply committed to educating young Pakistanis. I personally know more than half a dozen recent recipients of the Fulbright Scholarship, administered by the US Department of State.”

There is a general notion in Pakistan that Republican administrations are preferable over Democratic ones for Pakistan. But as Yasser Hamdani, another lawyer says, “there is a complete variance in how the Democrats and the Republicans approach Pakistan.”

Hamdani says that Pakistanis often conflate what’s best for the government and what’s best for the people. But that if we look at the approaches of both parties, “it is the Democrats who are for a more broad-based engagement with Pakistan in terms of cooperation on a strategic level underscoring long term common interests.”

Rasul Bukhsh Rais, however, has an entirely different point of view.

“I don’t think US elections matter to Pakistan,” says Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. “US Elections only matter in the United States.”

He sees both candidates looking to rebuild things at home and when it comes to foreign policy both Obama and Romney are in “remarkable agreement.” He says both candidates are going to focus on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a war which has been a failure for the world’s only superpower, and that “whoever is president is going to have to engage Pakistan in truing to a come up with a workable solution to Afghanistan.”

Huma Yusuf, an investigative journalist and frequent columnist, tends to share the opinion that the US Election has little bearing on US-Pakistan relations, but believes in a broader view of it.

“I do think it's narrow-minded of Pakistanis just to think of the direct relationship between US and Pakistan when thinking about the US election,” she says. “Romney might prove to be more trigger happy against Iran, and might take a slightly more aggressive stance against China. These regional developments could impact Pakistan.”

And while the preference for Republicans over Democrats might have been true before, she says economic realities within the US and changes in regional dynamics in Pakistan and its surrounding regions have altered that notion.

“It was Republicans who worked with Pakistan during the closest era of US-Pak cooperation during the 1980s anti-Soviet 'jihad',” says Yusuf. “But in a seriously cash-strapped America where military cuts are inevitable, this is no longer the case. They cannot continue to throw money at the Pakistan Army in the hope that their 'boys' in Pakistan will keep things under control.”

The sticking point for Pakistanis against Obama, she says, is the issue of drone attacks, which is something Romney will continue, thus changing nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Both Obama or Romney will take a similar approach with Pakistan says Yusuf, “keep the pressure on vis-a-vis militancy, but offer forms of aid and international support to keep it worth Pakistan's while.”

With polling already underway, the question of who will be the most powerful man in the world for the next four years will be answered soon.

In America, after a projected $6 Billion cost, a gruelling 19 month presidential campaign will come to a close.

Meanwhile the world watches.

The writer is a reporter at Dawn.com

For more special coverage on the US Elections including exclusive blogs, features, comments, analysis and multimedia from correspondents around the world, go to: US Elections 2012 In-depth