Guest blog by Muhammad Saad
Barack Obama’s recent election as the next US president has been met with widespread acclaim all over the world. However, in Pakistan, which has been a frontline state in the ‘War on Terror’ since September 11, 2001, Obama’s victory has met with either cautiously optimistic or sceptic reactions. His recent statements about Pakistan have been hardly encouraging for the Pakistani people.
Despite facing considerable opposition at home, Pervez Musharraf’s government allowed the US armed forces to use Pakistan as a base for staging attacks against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. But since the past one year, the War on Terror’s scope has expanded to the tribal areas of Pakistan. Many Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be taking refuge over there, forcing the Pakistani military to take action against these forces. The new democratic government has also resolved to root out the Taliban from these areas. However, the recent American and NATO air strikes in the tribal regions, which have killed many innocent people along with some Taliban forces, have caused massive outrage in the country and soured relations between the two erstwhile allies.
Obama’s declaration to attack Pakistan if he finds out about the presence of high-value terrorists over there, not necessarily with the approval of the Pakistan government, has led to widespread resentment in the country. He further went on to say that Pakistan is the new epicentre of terrorism and has openly declared his intention of shifting the focus of American anti-terrorism efforts from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. These statements, according to some critics, were made by Obama because he was being accused of being too ‘soft’ on foreign policy and national security by his rivals and some media outlets, and therefore Obama came out hard on Pakistan with the attempt to gain voters. Pakistanis would hope that these statements were only said to gain votes. With the rapid increase in suicide bombings and the severe financial crisis which has gripped Pakistan, the continuation of US air strikes would be the last thing the country needs at the moment. This would certainly harm the nascent democratic government’s popularity, as many Pakistanis see these strikes as a violation of their country’s sovereignty, and are unhappy with their government’s apparent subservience to American influence.
However, with Joe Biden being Vice President, therefore a key figure in Obama’s administration, there is a ray of hope for Pakistan. Biden has recently been awarded the Hilal-e-Pakistan (Crescent of Pakistan) award by the Pakistani government, in recognition of his vocal support for the restoration of democracy in the country, and for authoring a bill providing $1.5 billion in non-military aid. He is also known to favour diplomatic solutions to all of Pakistan’s problems. Pakistanis would be hoping that he plays a key role in shaping the South Asian policies for the Obama administration.
In the meantime, as the rest of the world rejoices on Obama’s victory, Pakistan looks on nervously.