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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will Obama's reelection change the US-Pakistan relationship?

Some Pakistani officials are quietly hoping Obama's reelection will help relations between the two countries, particularly if Sen. John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
As news of President Obama's victory reaches Pakistan, many say they do not expect any substantial change in US foreign policy toward the country.
But some Pakistani officials and politicians are quietly hoping that perhaps a cabinet reshuffle and a strengthened mandate, now that reelection pressures are eased, could soften an otherwise tense relationship between the two countries.
And rumors that Sen. John Kerry (D) from Massachusetts could replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has some officials hoping that the former's many-year relationship with Pakistan could pave the way for an even smoother cooperation.

“It is of course up to the US president to appoint the Secretary of State. However, if speculations about Kerry become true, then that would be a positive development – and a lot easier. Kerry has many friends in Pakistan. He obviously knows the region, and the ins and outs of our relationship,” says Fawad Chaudhury, a special assistant to Pakistan's prime minister.
Kerry was one of the US senators who sponsored the $1.5 billion annual Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package to Pakistan, and is known for his relationship with the country. He paid visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden, in an effort to save the rocky partnership.
Some within the security establishment agree. “I think he is more soft and understanding toward Pakistan. There may be a better relationship between the two as a result,” says a security official who preferred to remain unnamed.
The official also predicts that Obama's reelection could have given him a strengthened mandate to pursue the foreign policy line – and vision – that he laid out during his first presidential campaign.
“This time he might be more bold, and have more space to make his own decisions. In the first term, the CIA and Pentagon were calling the shots. Now Obama is less worried about reelection, and can ensure that the State Department sets the line,” says the official.
In an interview before the election, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said he tentatively agreed that an Obama win would benefit Pakistan. “Obama's instincts are basically right. Let's hope if he wins the second term, we see a different Obama,” he said.
Even Pakistan's right-wing Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) appears hopeful. “Less pressure on Obama could create some space for small changes in their policy. Perhaps Obama could move closer toward the message he gave the Muslim world in his Cairo speech. But time will tell,” says Fareed Ahmed Paracha, JI's deputy secretary general.
But Dr. Paracha also echoed the broader apparent disinterest of the Pakistani public in Obama's victory. “The bottom line is that we need to get our own house in order,” he says. "The US, as such, does not matter."

Obama & Pakistan

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.