The US elections mean nothing for Pakistan

Published: October 31, 2012
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The writer is Associate Editor of SouthAsia Magazine. She holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

The writer is Associate Editor of SouthAsia Magazine. She holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

Three days ago, election fever gripped the United States but Hurricane Sandy, blew all of that away. With both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney postponing their election campaigns, the US has come to a standstill after suffering from one of the worst storms it has ever endured.

Regardless of this, the presidential election remains just five days away and will mainly be determined by the candidates’ domestic policies addressing a devastated economy, health care, job creation, energy and now, responding to climate change. Ironically, only one presidential debate, on October 22, was focused on foreign policy despite the growing turmoil that grips countries around the world, some seen as indispensable to the US, others viewed as allies, yet not a single deemed unnecessary. The next president will not only inherit a troublesome economy but will have to immediately delve into matters of international concern such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the looming crisis in the Middle East and then of course, the king of all beasts: Pakistan.

Though political views remain divided, President Obama illustrates a greater understanding of international affairs with enhanced experience of dealing with difficult partners. While the two candidates remain neck to neck at home, President Obama was a clear favourite to win the elections, in a recent international opinion poll conducted by the BBC World Service. President Obama is preferred to Romney in 20 of the 21 countries, including India, with France illustrating a 72 per cent approval rating. However, Pakistan was the only country that showed a lower rating (11 per cent) for President Obama and a 14 per cent approval rating for Governor Romney.

Pakistanis have suffered tremendously over the course of four years and have been agitated with incidents such as the shameful May 2 Abbottabad raid, the audacious Raymond Davis episode and the unforgivable Salala tragedy. While President Obama may be a disappointment, it must be considered that high expectations often fall flat, especially when constrained by a Congress dominated by Republicans, thus preventing bipartisanship on issues of foreign policy.

For a country embroiled in its longest and most expensive war in Afghanistan, foreign policy surprisingly features little in national debate. As the foreign policy presidential debate illustrated, Romney fails to offer a marked shift from the current strategy of drone strikes in Pakistan or the withdrawal timetable set for 2014 in Afghanistan. As Romney vows not to divorce Pakistan, he does provide a list of issues that could potentially transform it into a “failed state”, thus requiring a more assertive American hand. But Pakistan’s importance to international players will undoubtedly grow as Nato troops prepare for a responsible withdrawal and Afghanistan undergoes a litmus test for stability.

Romney will enter the office with very little exposure to global politics and even little knowledge of diplomacy. Leaning heavily towards conservative politics, he will undoubtedly adopt a policy of machoism and pedantic policies rather than meaningful engagement and prolonged diplomacy. Furthermore, Romney will surround himself with advisers and architects of the Iraq war, thus colouring his policies with those that have already proved to be a dismal failure.

But campaign rhetoric rarely transforms into policy recommendations or alters national strategies. While it may momentarily tilt the vote bank in a particular candidate’s favour, the US policy in the end will be determined by its national interests abroad, not some choice quotes, as is the case in any other country.

Nonetheless, Pakistan has little to worry about with the upcoming elections, which will have a modest impact here. However, policies fall flat if not complemented with correct diplomacy and that could be the stark difference between the two candidates. For now, there seems little to distinguish the two and Pakistan must not expect drastic changes, whether for good or for bad.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • numbersnumbers
    Oct 31, 2012 - 10:55PM

    WOW, you refer to the “shameful May 2 Abbottabad raid”, but where do you talk about the “shameful” housing of Osama bin Laden and entourage in Abbottabad for more than 5 years! Both presidential candidates have a pretty good idea of what really goes on in Pakistan, so whoever wins, the free lunch at the expense of the American taxpayer is over!

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  • Cautious
    Oct 31, 2012 - 11:12PM

    While President Obama may be a
    disappointment, it must be considered
    that high expectations often fall
    flat, especially when constrained by a
    Congress dominated by Republicans,
    thus preventing bipartisanship on
    issues of foreign policy.

    The President determines foreign policy not Congress and bipartisanship is a red herring attempt to put blame on the Republicans. I would also remind the author that the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House when Obama took the reigns. When you blow through the smoke there isn’t any substantive difference between the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Pakistan and I would opine that Obama isn’t handling Pakistan any different that George Bush Jr.

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  • faraz
    Oct 31, 2012 - 11:39PM

    I prefer Republicans; they adopt more active foreign policy than Democrats. It means more dollars for us

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  • Parvez
    Nov 1, 2012 - 12:00AM

    Every time a US election comes around this debate starts. After the elections we realise that its ‘business as usual’, until the next elections.

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  • misanthrope
    Nov 1, 2012 - 12:31AM

    Its true. These elections mean nothing for Pakistan. Democrats and Republicans exist solely to give the illusion of choice; that it matters whether Obama or Romney sits in the Oval Office. It doesn’t matter. It stopped mattering after JFK. At best, we can expect the status quo to prevail. At worst, greater meddling in our affairs, escalated drone strikes, more Raymond Davis’s and more nagging US to ”do more”. I never had much faith in our government. But now, I dont trust the cronies in Washington either. They should stick to cleaning up the mess in their own backyard.Recommend

  • Reidi
    Nov 1, 2012 - 12:42AM

    As true as can be. Mr. Romney, in the present sceneroe look exactly like Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan when he was introduced in 80’s in Pakistani politics; a businessman, who cared about his own interests. An immature; the only choice to fill the leadership-vacuum which exists in The Republican Party at the moment. He seems like a recruit in international politics and his position on the domestic level has exposed his capabilities of a would be President of the sole super power of the world. From a person, who do not pay the required tax (A Governor of his State: see the resemblance?) in the USA and make excuses for that, nothing big can be expected on the international fronts. As everyone knows that national policies and politics, today, depends wholly on international policies and politics. The domestic and economic crisis in the US is totally related to the ongoing situation of the world today. So the person who agrees with the present president on his foreign policies and cannot give a real solution to either domestic or international problems, is obviously not a better candidate for the job than the present one. An American president, according to the history of the United States’ presidents, cannot be a person with so limited vision and exposure. Mr. Obama, as we all know, is also in the hot water and seems unable to control the whole situation but now, for some time, he is in the picture and in the middle of a process to cope with the problems, created by the policies of Mr. Romney’s predecessors. Like you have rightly said, in Mr. Romney’s case the policy makers will be the one who made the Iraq War policy and what happened there? We are on the crossroads and at this juncture, we cannot afford these policies. So it does make a difference if the next President will be Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama seems a ‘not-so-bad’ choice at the moment.

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  • Sultan
    Nov 1, 2012 - 3:36AM

    I am not sure about Pakistan but Obama is definitely bad for india–he will stop the massive job export scheme called “outsourcing” put in place by the Republicans and give those jobs to Americans crushed under the weight of a three year long depression.

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  • idiot_gee
    Nov 1, 2012 - 4:02AM

    The editors statement seems like a “blanket” statement at best. It’d be worthwhile if she expressed her opinions as to where it will and will not make a difference. I see it making a HUGE difference in certain areas and very LITTLE in others. Aid being one of them! You decide where that’d fall.

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  • Cautious
    Nov 1, 2012 - 5:06AM

    @Sultan

    I am not sure about Pakistan but Obama
    is definitely bad for india–he will
    stop the massive job export scheme
    called “outsourcing” put in place by
    the Republicans and give those jobs to
    Americans crushed under the weight of
    a three year long depression.

    You must be joking or naive. Obama has had 4 years to do something about exporting jobs to India and he hasn’t lifted a finger — now that it’s election time he’s suddenly concerned.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 1, 2012 - 9:13AM

    Does Pakistan still look towards the US for sustenance? I thought the focus had shifted towards China.

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  • yousaf
    Nov 1, 2012 - 1:11PM

    @author::I beg to differ when you say that US elections mean nothing for Pakistan.Rather I will say that we should brace ourselves for the coming days as a lot is going to change in the approach of US foreign policy which is run entirely on dollar-bases and America,presently,is in dire need of money for herself to reconstruct the infrastructure with which Sandy has played havoc.No more lollipops any more to which we are so badly addicted.We better think of standing-up on our own two feet and fast.A lot has to be done on the way by way of overhauling the entire public and private sectors.The things are going to get tough and as they say,if we are TOUGH we will have to get going,and quick.The opportunity has risen out of the blue and we better catch it before things go back to square-one

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  • Sanjeev
    Nov 1, 2012 - 2:58PM

    Sultan @ Whenever you use a Noun in a sentence the first alphabet should be in Capital letter. Writing India rather than india.

    Sure Obama is not good from a outsourcing perspective for India but Drones project for AFPAK is extended for 4 years atleast.

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  • F
    Nov 1, 2012 - 4:14PM

    Shameful Abbotabad raid! No shame in hosting, hiding, housing and protecting the world’s most wanted terrorist. Now it doesn’t take much to figure out why Pakistan doesn’t figure positively in any nation’s foreign policy. People talk openly about the threat to world peace from Pakistan. There is open recognition that the germs of this threat are firmly ingrained in what is taught and preached to everyday people from all walks of life. It is not a phenomenon confined to the so called religious schools. It is all pervasive. This article is a prime example of that: perpetually feel persecuted, take no responsibility and blame others!

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  • thor
    Nov 1, 2012 - 6:33PM

    @Sultan:
    Not sure if you read my reply to your harangue on outsourcing industry..
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/457276/pakistan-beyond-bipolar-disorder/
    I am gonna tell you this again
    “What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you’re that pi**ed that so many others had it good.”

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  • Rida
    Nov 1, 2012 - 6:41PM

    Obama administration’s open support for democray in Pakistan is one of the reasons that the current govt. still survives despite some serious problems with GHQ. Romney, on the other hand, is an opportunistic person and would not care if democracy in Pakistan continues or not.
    If Obama wins again he will continue to support democracy and would keep our ‘powerful’ establishment in check.

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  • M Ali Khan
    Nov 1, 2012 - 7:16PM

    @numbersnumbers:
    the vast majority of that US taxpayer money goes into the hands of US NGOs, companies, and corporations to “facilitate development” rather than directly to Pakistani authorities.

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  • Sultan
    Nov 1, 2012 - 8:48PM

    @Sanjeev:

    “Sultan @ Whenever you use a Noun in a sentence the first alphabet should be in Capital letter. Writing India rather than india.”

    I do it on purpose–only to bother you and it works!

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  • Bilal Bin Munir
    Nov 1, 2012 - 8:52PM

    We always forget about the American establishment. Like every country security policy is detemined by establishment. There is not a single day that America is not in war since WW2. So no matter who ever is in the Oval office establishment will continue its policies and no American president will go against the establishment.

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  • Sultan
    Nov 1, 2012 - 9:18PM

    @thor:

    Thank you for your wonderful quote. I am actually quite happy in life. You should worry about the 80% of the unshining indians forgotten about you and your Ayn Rand loving desi neo con buddies. So little thor, where is your little hammer now?

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  • humairakanwal
    Nov 2, 2012 - 12:46AM

    Agreed ,there will be nothing new for Pakistan and by the way why should it brings change .despite of low score like in a recent international opinion poll from Pak side the 11 % for Obama or 14% Romeny will not bring any change in electroral result or US policy making.it is not the Issue of Obama or Romeny because we have seen Bush as well in whole decade of war against terrorism.
    As far as Shameful May Raid or Drones or other issues are concerned i would like to coat the comment of senior analyst Dr Rifft Hussain .he had said me it last year ‘ if you will not cleanup your home people will throw garbage in your home’ ( home is Pakistan our country and garbage means taliban .the talibs not only from Pakistan but from whole world are sitting in our land )
    and by the way by keeping snakes in our backyard why we are expecting our sovereignty will be respected.

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  • Ubair khan
    Nov 2, 2012 - 4:04AM

    Romney or Obama whoever come Pakistani people have no problem and no care with them because they will ‘n0t solve their domestic issues like inflation etc
    problem is for our security agencies with politicians

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