ANALYSIS : What Obama’s victory means for Pakistan — Azizullah Khan
There is little hope of the return of the Pak-US relationship to complete normalcy, as the sustained thorny issues will rear their heads sooner rather than later
Mr Obama’s unrelentingly aggressive attitude towards Pakistan in the management of crises-like situations caused by last year’s cataclysmic events indicated that he wanted to tighten the noose around Pakistan. But owing to his justifiable obsession with the election campaign for a second term, he failed to do so. Now that he is elected for another term, it is highly probable that he will take Pakistan to task if it refuses to yield to America’s so-called ‘do more’ mantra.
Having Mr Obama’s dovish image in their minds, the majority of Pakistanis wished him to be re-elected. But they were mistaken: Mr Obama was not so dovish towards Pakistan. He did not move even an inch from his original stance on the Raymond Davis issue; daringly kept up with drones; did not consider it suitable to take Pakistan into confidence about the May 2 operation to catch Osama bin Laden and did not apologise on the Salala killing of 26 Pakistani soldiers. In the aftermath of the Salala event, he even seemed to have started a solo flight on the Afghan-war front. The Obama who dealt these issues was hawkish and seemed exasperated with Pakistan.
Unlike his first term, this time Mr Obama would get into action mode more rapidly. The transition and get-started time he is spared and he will not waste time on the cards he has tested earlier. He will straight away pick up from where he might have left off. It would have been otherwise had Mitt Romney made it to the White House. Mr Obama will be bold as well. The fact that foreign policy was insignificant in the presidential election campaign should have assured him that this time he should boldly implement his plans with little care for domestic pressure. To him, his re-election also means that he has the right formulae on the foreign policy front, be it drones or unilateral operations. In addition, he would no longer be anxious about his popularity graph.
There is little hope of the return of the Pak-US relationship to complete normalcy, as the sustained thorny issues will rear their heads sooner rather than later. For instance, a spectacular attack in Afghanistan with alleged links to the Haqqani network would suffice for Obama’s administration to raise the issue with renewed vigour. Mr Obama will be tempted to ask hard questions plainly so as to solve the issue once and for all. Given the string of terrorist attacks in Pakistan in recent days, his argument of terrorism being a common enemy will feel more persuasive. Intransigence on the part of Pakistan, even if based on genuine excuses of incapability or ‘right-time’, will not be heeded and attract the wrath of the US.
Pressure on Mr Obama from the war-fatigued Karzai regime will also factor in. Mr Karzai is critical of Pakistan’s Afghan policy and has been asking America to seriously take Pakistan to task and bring it in line. With no strategic agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan in sight and time running out fast, Kabul will try to build as much pressure on Islamabad as possible.
The US’s apprehensions about Pakistan’s nuclear installations have gone nowhere. Pointing to the horrific Taliban attacks on strategic locations inside Pakistan, American officials will keep making the point that terrorist organisations, particularly those based in Punjab, should be rooted out. They consider these organisations a threat not only to the nuclear installations of Pakistan but also to regional peace. India is also pressuring the US in this regard. The challenge is too big for Pakistan to overcome: these organisations are splintered over a wide area; they have political presence; their roots are in the masses, and Pakistani forces being thinly deployed in the border region cannot afford to open many fronts at one time. The challenge has almost surpassed the capability of the state. The issue can potentially rock Pak-US relations.
The US also wants Pakistan to normalise its relations with India. Pakistan does believe that normalisation with India is in its own favour, but owing to its accusations about the ‘Indian hand’ in the insurgency in Balochistan, and reservations about her foothold in Afghanistan, Pakistan does not want to open up ties with India unconditionally. Pakistan believes that India is playing a double game; on the one side, she extends a hand of friendship while on the other she stabs in the back. Pakistan wants to normalise relations with India but not at the pace the US wants it to be. The US should address the reservations of Pakistan to its satisfaction if it wants to open wide the gate on the Wagha border.
Related to this is the Pak-China relationship that has become a thorn in the eye of the US. The US does not like Pakistan to stick to China; she wants Pakistan to come clean with her and establish a sustainable relationship with her. America’s long-term interests in the region do not allow her to let China overshadow the US’s influence in the region, and hence any state that wants to help China to do that will face her wrath. Pakistan being a sovereign state has all rights reserved to establish relations of its liking with any state of the world. It has to find the means to ward off the US pressure. It is highly unlikely that China will take a stand on Pakistan in its relationship with the US.
Pakistan is facing a crucial situation. On the issues of Afghan policy and internal terrorism/militant resistance to the Americans, pressure leads it to contravention of international law, which invites further trouble. Therefore, it needs to make an articulate, constructive and positive policy for it. On the matters of normalisation with India and closeness to China, it can successfully withstand American pressure but only end up hurting its own interests. It should normalise ties with India and raise its reservations on relevant forums. Just like China, Pakistan should not allow its relationship with China to harm its relations with other states.
The writer is a political observer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org