Prom­ises to keep

Southasia - - Comment -

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

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