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After the conclusion of the third and final US Presidential debate on Monday October 22, 2012, all eyes and opinion are focused on who the next man in the White House will be. The question also holds a special significance for Pakistan.
Being America’s front line state in the War on Terror in Afghanistan, the controversial debate on drones, the amount of US aid injected into various institutions in Pakistan and the changing political climate in the Muslim world have shaped a very intimate relationship between the two countries. Therefore, which candidate and which party holds the reins in the White House for the next four years is exponentially significant for Pakistanis.
A PEW survey in June 2012 showed that currently 7% of Pakistanis favour Obama, which is even lower than the popularity of President Bush in the last year of his term. Additionally, a new poll conducted by the BBC World Service has found that Pakistan is the only overseas country of those polled that said they would prefer to see Republican US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney win the November elections.
‘Obama a sophisticated Bush’
According to veteran journalist Talat Hussain, the drop in Obama’s approval ratings in Pakistan is a stark contrast from the beginning of his presidential term where most Pakistanis championed the “Obama” factor.
“He was known to be an antithesis of George W Bush and his un-thinking policies. But as he went through his years in the White House, we discovered that he was basically a more sophisticated version of Bush,” says Hussain.
“Over the past few years Pakistan has been branded as a sanctuary for terrorists by a majority of American media organisations and public opinion about the country has deteriorated massively in the US. Therefore, the Democrats showing any kind of flexibility on the Af-Pak region, especially during election year would have gone against their ratings,” says Raza Rumi, a senior columnist.
Obama re-election equals no change
Analysts predict little is going to change for Pakistan if Obama is re-elected.
“Obama has already invested a lot of political capital in the region in terms of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the war on al-Qaeda and the drone attacks. If Obama is re-elected, Pakistan should not expect any major policy change,” says Fahd Hussain, a senior TV anchor and journalist.
“The next four years will just be a continuation of the same policies, but in a more sophisticated manner, says Hussain.
Experts wary of Romney
On the other hand, there is a consensus amongst experts that the policy implications for Pakistan under Romney’s presidential term would be worse than four more years with Obama.
According to Asim Sajjad, a columnist and academic, a Romney win “…means going back to a lot jingoism and war-mongering of the Bush years. Because the fight against terrorism is the future of American expansionism.”
“However, if given a choice between the two candidates, the better and less reactionary choice for Pakistan would be Obama,” he said.
Hussain also shares the same opinion.
“Obama is a problem that Pakistan knows but what kind of Republican will dominate the Pakistan, that’s a problem that Pakistan does not know. Therefore, the potential of engaging with Pakistan is much more than engaging with an unknown character at the White House,” he said.
The way forward
Regardless of the next President in the White House, the road to repairing the damaged relationship between the two countries is long and complicated.
Some experts like Sajjad believe that American imperialism will continue its mandate of spreading capitalism across the globe, using different mediums of market exploitation under different administrations.
However, others such as Rumi believe that Pakistan needs to adopt a more inward-looking approach if it wants to improve its bargaining power with the US, and the world at large.
He insists that America should be held responsible for its brute use of power in Iraq and Afghanistan but at the same time, Pakistan also needs to pick a clear side.
“Wanting to be America’s front line state, expect military and civilian aid, demand visas and scholarships for students and simultaneously create a bogey of US enemy on the other hand is a path that has not worked well for the country,” emphasizes Rumi.
“It is time to make some tough choices. Pakistan can either decide to be independent, free itself of US aid and reduce its engagement with America. Or it can take the alternative route of becoming friends and imbibing global values.”
“We unfortunately are completely split in the middle. Therefore, our understanding of the US policy, our relationship with the US and our expectation of either Romney or somebody else are completely off the mark,” he said.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT AND REPORTING BY: RABIA MEHMOOD, WAQAS NAEEM, OBAID ABBASI, FARMAN ALI