Promises to keep
The way the US Presidential election culminated in November, with Barack Obama being again elected for a second four year term and the Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney gracefully accepting defeat, was a matter of fascination for most nations around the world but specially so for countries of South Asia. After all, there would be few politicians in the region who would concede an election defeat so tamely and walk out into the political wilderness. But all said and done, where does Obama’s second term place South Asia in his global strategy for the next four years?
For India, the victory signals a welcome continuity in policy even though little change was expected even if Governor Romney had won. However, it was generally not expected that the US elections, whoever the winner, would improve relations between the US and Pakistan. In the last presidential debate on foreign policy, Romney by and large represented the current U.S. policy towards Pakistan. The developing gulf between the two countries was further underlined when Pakistan emerged as the only country to prefer Romney over Obama in the BBC poll that covered 21 countries. While 14 per cent of the respondents in Pakistan wanted to see Romney in the White House, only 11 per cent wanted Obama, while 75 per cent expressed no opinion, which reflected the widely held view that status quo should prevail whatever the result.
Efforts seem to be in progress to put the love-hate relationship between America and Pakistan behind after a seven month hiatus following the NATO bombardment of Salalah, a Pakistan Army outpost on the Afghanistan border where 24 soldiers were killed. The recent endeavours have all the same failed to address the sentiment of anti-Americanism that has developed in the country over the years. This feeling became worse in Obama’s first stint and is still at a high point.
On the Kashmir front too, departing from his 2008 election promise of “devoting serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in [Kashmir] to figure out a plausible approach,” Obama in office, shifted to non-interference in Kashmir, treating it more as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. The latter also did not like being lumped with Afghanistan in the ‘Af-Pak’ arrangement. Obama’s original proposal was to name a special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but India managed to work its way out of the formulation and distance itself from the traditionally IndiaPakistan approach through which the U.S. treated the two major South Asian neighbours. Pakistan has also not taken very kindly to the preference that the US now gives to India and treats it as a regional power.
For the average Pakistani, Obama is the man who kills innocent civilians with drones and the one who had the audacity to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty even further by sending in its soldiers to kill Osama bin Laden. There is no denying that during Obama’s first tenure, drone attacks in Pakistani territory have registered a multiple increase and this has certainly negatively impacted bilateral relations. With Pakistan refusing to go after so-called terrorist havens in North Waziristan, which has now been designated by Washington as “terror central,” no let up is expected in US-sponsored drone attacks and this will continue to be a sticking point in Pakistan-US relations. It is imperative therefore that in the interest of future US relations in the region, President Barack Obama gives a rethink to his South Asian policy – and keeps the promises he made four years earlier.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal