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From high to low politics

THE American presidential elections have always suffered from a dichotomy. They are won and lost on the basis of the domestic agenda. However, the president’s legacy is shaped by foreign and defence policies pursued during the years in power. Same is the case with Barack Obama’s second term.

He has won the 2012 elections in the name of domestic US issues such as healthcare, reducing the deficit, a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration laws etc. However, his presidency will be remembered for the impending withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the US defence policy towards Afghanistan and its foreign and trade policies towards South Asia.

Obama is in the process of finalising the next phase of the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan. The withdrawal is an unfulfilled commitment that he inherited from his first election campaign, hence it’s obligatory for him to bring his troops home. Previously the withdrawal of troops was an option. But now it’s a compulsion.

Obama has to serve for two more years after 2014. The years 2015 and 2016 will be the time to fix and rehabilitate the US foreign and defence policies. It is crisis time for Obama. However, crisis may provide the US president an opportunity to be remembered in history.

There’s no denying the fact that the elimination of Osama bin Laden during his presidency will go down in history as the feather in Barack Obama’s cap. His policies severely damaged and fractured Al Qaeda’s chain of command. After the death of Osama, Al Qaeda’s activities have been badly affected, though terrorism in North Africa and Pakistan is still an issue.

President Obama still has choices. Will he carry on the expanding use of drones, or will he employ diplomacy?

The trust deficit between Pakistan and the US during Obama’s first term needs to be repaired in his second tenure. Problems like the Raymond Davis case, the May 2 incident, the Salala attack and the blasphemous movie have strained US-Pakistan relations.

On the other hand, a smooth withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan is not possible without help from Pakistan. Hence, trust must be rebuilt with Pakistan for a successful endgame in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, a country confronting multiple problems of its own, deserves extra care and help from the international community. Any serious threat to Pakistan’s national security would ultimately hurt US foreign and defence policies in the region. Pakistan’s security is directly related to US national defence and its global interests. This is something former US presidents Bush senior, Bill Clinton and Bush junior failed to understand. President Obama’s second term will be a great success if past mistakes are not repeated.

Pakistan is still waiting for an economic and trade relationship with the US. Obama’s first term was dominated by high politics between the two countries. During the global ‘war on terror’ the most affected country remained Pakistan, which also suffered financially. However, with the endgame in Afghanistan approaching, there is a dire need to recompense Pakistan for its sacrifices and for its front-line role in battling militancy.

This can happen not by providing temporary financial aid, but by developing trade relations on permanent grounds. Pakistan, with its excellent cotton, fruit and rice, can export numerous items to the US. This will not only help the shabby Pakistani economy but will also provide American consumers with high-quality products.

A strong Pakistan with a strong economy will be a great deterrent against extremism. This will also reduce its dependence on US aid. An economic and financial relationship will benefit both countries where their regional and global interests are concerned. Turning from high politics to low politics in the region, especially after the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, must be a prominent feature of President Obama’s second term.

Barack Obama’s growing trade relations with India and China during his first term were evidence of his desire to expand economic gains for his country. He efficiently administered the complexities in Sino-US economic relations.

However, the growing trade deficit in Sino-US trade relations is $295 billion. This directly results in American economic and manufacturing decline. The challenge for Obama is that the size of the trade deficit must be reduced, though much will depend on how the new leadership in Beijing will respond to his moves. The US administration has to move cautiously to achieve its objectives.

Regarding India, Obama has a clear vision: strengthen security and military cooperation, boost trade and encourage New Delhi’s collaboration on various regional and global issues. During a recent East Asia summit in Cambodia, President Obama told Manmohan Singh that “India is a big part of my plans” for the second term.

Pakistan can be one of the prime actors to serve US interests in the region. The appointment of John Kerry as secretary of state is a very positive development. He has travelled extensively in the region and knows the dynamics of local politics. He can work on behalf of the Obama administration to resolve differences between the allies.This can happen only if a policy of reconciliation and a shift from high politics to low politics is adopted for a sustainable peace — for them and for us.

The writer teaches at the Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar.