Obama & Pakistan

Published November 8, 2012

AS a country that has been the focus of world attention for reasons more than one, Pakistan will watch with hope and concern how the foreign policy of President Barack Obama during his second term will affect it in the years to come. Will the new Obama administration reassess some controversial aspects of its foreign policy, like the unceasing drone attacks in the northwest, or will the new mandate serve to reinforce its belief in the righteousness of its policies and stay the course? Since 2008, the US-Pakistan relationship has gone through unprecedented turmoil. Three events last year aggravated tensions between the two — the Raymond Davis affair, the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers at Salala in a US-led Nato  attack. In anger, Pakistan boycotted the Bonn conference and suspended the Nato supply line, insisting on an apology. The damage-control exercise took nearly a year to succeed; but it still remains to be seen to what extent the frosty rapprochement can remove the mistrust. The task before the two governments now is to strengthen bilateral ties and cooperate to achieve common objectives.

The obvious goal is to give peace and stability to Afghanistan during and after the Nato forces’ withdrawal by the end of 2014. There are some harsh realities: the Afghan Taliban have not been defeated; the peace talks stand frozen, or if at all there has been progress, America has kept its cards close to its chest; and the beleaguered Karzai regime seems to be in no position to maintain security after 2014. It is here — and not because of the 100 nuclear warheads Mitt Romney spoke of — that America needs Pakistan. Given the bonds of history, culture, economy and geography that unite Pakistan and Afghanistan, the transition to a long-lasting peace west of the Durand Line would not be possible without engaging Islamabad and addressing its legitimate concerns. More important, it is in Washington’s interest to de-velop a long-term relationship with Islamabad instead of ‘returning’ to Pakistan only when a crisis beckons.

As for its policy towards the Muslim heartland, President Obama should re-read his Cairo speech and judge whether America under him has achieved any of its goals. Iran continues to be under harsh American sanctions, and Israel builds settlements in utter disregard of President Obama’s warnings, toothless as they have been. His commitment to the two-state solution has become academic, because Israel has blocked the peace process, and Washington is at the Likud government’s beck and call to deny state status to Palestine at the UN.

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