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What Obama's victory means for Pakistan

 

By Imtiaz Gul

 The Express Tribune,Nov 08, 2012

 

The victory speech US President Barack Obama gave to the roar of the crowd was a mixof confidence, sobriety, magnanimity, oratory and optimism.

He thanked everybody - from young earnpaign organisers and political aides to rival Mitt Romney. "Our long campaign is now over and whether I earned your vote or not, I have
listened to you, I [have] learned from you." Obama said to the cheering enthusiastic sup-
porters after handing him a thumping victory. He also promised "reaching our and working with leaders of both parties to work together to move this country forward and fix issues". It was Barack Obama at his best: speaking as a reenergised president of"a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this world has ever known".

Some of the rhetoric on the strength of the American military and the riches of the nation
notwithstanding; Obama's entire speech was remarkably nation-focused. He kept talking of the issues that interest the common American such as employment, schooling and better governmental and fiscal governance.

Conspicuous by its absence from the victory speech was the foreign policy, and more so
Afghanistan and the war against terrorism - that so far has gobbled up close to a trillion dollars in over a decade or so.

This also reinforced the commonly-held perception that, primarily, domestic politics
deterrnme the US presidential electoral pro- cess, while foreign policy takes the centre
stage only after the president assumes or resumes charge. And this happens through an
elaborate consultative process involving the administration as well as the security estab-
lishment ie the guardian of America's geo- political interests.

Strangely, American image abroad, particularly in the Middle Eastern Muslim countries as
well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan reels from this very reason ie foreign policies that flow from the geo-political and geo-commercial in- terests of the globe's sole superpower.
It is safe to presume that Washington's view on Pakistan or its longest ever milltary engage- ment in Afghanistan, for which it already has set the Decemberzoia deadline, is not likely to change. Pakistan will continue to be sought after as the unwanted but necessary partner in the run-up to Afghanistan's presidential elections in spring 2012 as well as for helping out in the reconciliation process ahead of the bulk withdrawal offoreign troops from the country.

Recent overtures by US' Atghan-Pak envoy Marc Grossman and others clearly signalled
greater US empathy for Pakistan's reluctance in going after the terrorists nestled in North
Waziristan under the Haqqani Network's umbrella.

This could also translate in a little more lenience, quicker disbursement of economic in-
frastructure assistance and the release of the coalition support funds (CSF). Disbursements under the October 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act have so far averaged around a billion dollars a year, unlike the promised $1.5 billion per year. The renewed Pak-US engagement following Grossman's visi t in October as well as Obama's re-election augur well to the extent of continuity in the process.

Yet, this represents a daunting challenge, rather than a consolation for the Pakistani
military and civilian leadership. Fortunately for Pakistan, Obama's re-election means practically nil transition time - which would have taken months had Romney won. However, it is time for Islamabad to cover its flank sooner than later by articulating the still vague Mghanistan strar- egy in a way that draws respect and acceptance from others rather than jeer and scepticism.

It's time to act, as Obarna said in his speech (''Tonight you voted for action, not politics as
usual"). And herein lies a lesson for Pakistan as well. Act before it is too late.

 

 

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the forthcoming book Osama: Pakistan Before and After, Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk