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Obama and Pakistan: Let’s Hope for the Best

Posted on September 4, 2007
Filed Under >Haider Mullick, Foreign Relations, Pakistanis Abroad, People, Politics
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Guest post by Haider Mullick

When Senator Barack Obama advocated unilateral military action against Pakistan, if the Pakistani Army refused to act first on actionable intelligence, he was referring to President Musharraf’s so-called aloofness from this issue in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded promptly and forcefully; it termed the senator’s remarks “irresponsible” and called them a cheap shot at scoring political points at home. Senator Hillary Clinton‘s assessment about Senator Obama‘s naive foreign policy perspective was echoed by Republican forerunners such as Mitt Romney who said Obama wants to “have tea with our enemies and bomb our allies.”

This op-ed will analyse the Senator’s speech with two major assumptions; the Senator’s speech advocated a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim World from forced regime change to holistic economic, cultural and military engagement; second, despite his progressive ideas, the Senator’s remarks about Pakistan were ill-informed.

Only two hours after he spoke to a robust crowd at my internship place, Woodrow Wilson Center, I waited patiently to meet him. I had previously talked to his young and ambitious staff members about Pakistan; I was perturbed by his harsh tone toward Pakistan. When the senator approached me, I introduced myself. There was a pause and then I asked him jokingly, “Senator, are you going to invade my country?” His smile disappeared for a second and then came back. It mirrored his ambivalence.

This ambivalence is not ubiquitous in Senator Obama‘s experience in U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim World. The senator’s speech, and arguably the most important part of it, was focused on the need to “redefine the debate” between the United States and the Muslim World by “not compromising on America’s values.” He implied that America’s moral ground based on liberty and justice for all was lost to an inconsistent and hypocritical foreign policy. Among major initiatives to remedy the situation, such as the Middle East peace process and US military operations in the world, the senator advocated the creation of “America’s Voice Corps,” which the senator said will “send out into the field talented young Americans who can speak with – and listen to – the people who today hear about us only from our enemies.” Such a force of young people will be able to combine their efforts with their counterparts in the Muslim World creating bridges of understanding and common goals.

Moreover, Senator Obama stated his willingness to talk to America’s traditional enemies and allies in the Muslim World; he resurrected President Kennedy’s famous phrase, “never fear to negotiate but never negotiate out of fear”. He said that today’s world was interdependent and becoming increasingly united not by major peace initiatives but by individuals through inter-religious and inter-ethnic integration, and one that can not easily be divided into axes of good and evil; a world where state and non-state actors are equally and dangerously influential. For example, failed states, if neglected, become America’s colossal failures, and non-states such as Al-Qaeda become more organized and ambitious with every ill-conceived military action in the absence of political and economic reform.

Therefore I was baffled by the Senator’s broad-brush criticism against America’s only significant Muslim ally in the war on terror. Home to the Muslim World’s second largest population and its only nuclear power, Pakistan provides a 100,000 strong and committed military force and not a mercenary force in the war on terrorism. The Pakistanis are fighting their own war, one that has placed a shadow of doubt over every citizen and one that the government is finding harder to fight because of its own mistakes in quashing democratic forces.

However, unlike mass media organizations such as CNN and Fox News, Pakistanis don’t easily forget their fallen. More than 1,200 young Pakistani men and women in uniform have died in a war that was more difficult for them than the one Americans are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in that they had to kill and capture their own nationals – talk about deteriorating morale when one is ordered to kill citizens not thousands of miles away in a distant country but a few miles away from one’s capital city, and sometimes a few blocks away from the Awan-e-Sadr, the “Pakistani White House.”

Senator Obama wanted to criticise President Musharraf’s failed attempts to curb terrorist activity by brokering peace with tribal leaders operatives in Waziristan region of Pakistan. But then there is no credibility in the Senator’s statements if he implies that Pakistan should be punished for its more than five year campaign. Pakistani forces have killed or captured the largest number of bad guys, more than all other allies combined including the master mind of 9/11. In addition, the notion of US-unilateral military action on Pakistani soil is not new – for years American Special Forces have conducted missions in Pakistan.

That said Pakistan’s current sacrifices are not sustainable or justifiable in the long-run without political reform. Many soldiers have died in vain due to ill-conceived military adventurisms in the FATA and Baluchistan region. They died for their country, which is controlled by unelected hubris. There was never a vote for or against the war on terror, no vote to send the troops, no debate on their armor, no questioning about the budget. It was done for reasons many Pakistanis support, but by officials who rarely took their case to the people.

There was progress in the war on terror but political uncertainty, civil liberty violations and the general feeling of apathy among the youth have created a dangerous environment. Together with the sheer force of Pakistani patriotism in the upcoming elections, and Senator Obama‘s pro-engagement strategy in 2008, we can all “hope” for a better future, otherwise the senator’s inadequately nuanced words may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Haider A. H. Mullick is interning at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Brookings Institution; and also leading an in-depth research project on education reform in the Muslim world at the Hudson Institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World. This article also appeared in the Nation

31 comments posted

Comment Pages: « 4 3 [2] 1 » Show All

  1. Shafique says:
    September 4th, 2007 1:51 pm

    @YLH: you mean E.Shafaq

  2. YLH says:
    September 4th, 2007 1:39 pm

    Those who think that Obama’s “action plan” is supported by “experts” ought to see the reality on the ground.

    You have Pakistani Army fighting a difficult and losing battle in an area which has evaded capture by the every invader, British and the Russians being the latest ones.

    Pakistan has bent over backwards to fight this war on terror and to tell you the truth I have always considered terrorism to be a greater threat to us than anyone else in the world. But the way Americans are acting… even those who are trying to be more loyal than the king… like E-shafique etc … I wonder if it is worth fighting this war and losing our soldiers?

    But I say let us support the American “Action Plan”… why let withdraw Pakistani troops altogether. And if Americans want to go to South Waziristan and North Waziristan … let them… let them put their Marine Corp and the US Army … let it be them instead of us. Let them go in and understand the enormous sacrifice Pakistan has made fighting its war in the region. Pakistani Army atleast has been there for the past few years… US Army will not – with or without Air Support- last more than three weeks.

  3. king_faisal says:
    September 4th, 2007 1:25 pm

    pakistani reaction to obama’s remarks just shows how out of touch ordinary pakistanis are with the values of the civilised world. citizens of civilised countries like america believe that its the duty of the government to protect the lives of its citizens. thus if the u.s. government has information that terrorists in pakistan are planning to kill americans either in the u.s. or abroad, u.s. government will act to eliminate those terrorists either by asking pakistani government to do the needful or by acting unilaterlally if no help is forthcoming from pakistan. if pakistanis dont want to be in the firing line of americans, they should stop giving shelter to the terrorists who want to kill americans. pakistanis off course have the option to fight the americans which if i know pakistanis, would be the likely choice of a large number of people if not the majority. and no, u.n. wont come to our aid by imposing sanctions on the u.s. because under u.n. resolution 1368 passed after 9/11, americans have carte blanche to pretty much do whatever they please to pakistan or to any other country for that matter that harbours terrorists.

    i also have to say that even though i am a pakistani, i would applaud the actions of u.s. government were it to act against pakistan. i reside in the west and my life is threatened by these terrorists as much as that of a westerner. and while i applaud the actions of pakistani government against the terrorists, i believe the good work done by our fauj is being undermined by the leftist-mullah alliance in pak which controls the pakistani media through which it spreads hatred of our government. its the stupidity of the jehadi mullah and their leftists/commie allies that will bring pakistan to its knees. ordinary people will unfortunately bear the brunt but that?s the price we have to pay for staying silent in the face of jahaluth, stupid, irrational, cowardly people don?t deserve a country of their own.

  4. Shafique says:
    September 4th, 2007 12:23 pm

    While we all deplore the statements made by a rookie senator/presidential candidate Obama, we must also mention here that Bush Inc. has been preparing to do exactly that and their Homeland Security advisor told Fox News exactly what Obama said albeit in a more roundabout way.

    US have been conducting strikes on Pak soil ? on and off.

    Considering, what the hell is going on in Pakistan as we sit and do armchair analysis ? there are more urgent and critical issues to worry about than Obama.

  5. faraz says:
    September 4th, 2007 12:07 pm

    Akif Nizam, it is not just Obama. I think next president of USA will do the same. USA can not allow safe heavens. They are holding just because of Bush relations with Mush.

    Nawaz just assured USA that he will be tough against OBL supporters. Infact BB or Nawaz have to work hard to win trust of Western world. We have voices like Imran khan, Qazi and Hameed Gul, who want this war to be stop. Well it is not simply in hand of Pakistan to stop this war. Either OBL group should surrender or either West should change its policy. Third option is complete destruction of OBL and countries like Pakistan by West. Pakistan is just a foot soldier. We are between a rock and a hard place.

  6. haroon says:
    September 4th, 2007 12:02 pm

    Why do we have this here? The story is old, the writeup is stale, and this author has nothing new to say.

    I agree with others that an American candidate shoudl be thinking fo America’s nterests. I wish one day Pakistani candidates will also start thinking of what is good for Pakistan.

  7. Masood Afridi says:
    September 4th, 2007 11:41 am

    I am sorry, but this is rather unimpressive knee-jerk reaction that is naive and ratehr childish. I expected better analysis than this at this website.

  8. lida says:
    September 4th, 2007 11:37 am

    One things for sure.
    If democrats win that will be really bad for Pakistan but good for American Muslims.
    Republicans are good for Pakistan( and its Army) but bad for American Muslims.
    Democrats are good for American Muslims but really bad for Pakistan ( and especially its Army).

    Being a Pakistani American I would say that we should for Democrats so that Pakistan gets its self out of depending on US for everything. We need to use China are our superpower godfather and build a strategic partnership( a real one). Enought of this China Pakistan Bhai Bhai we need to do a major strategic shift.

    CAIR USA did a huge blunder by supporting republicans and they( American Muslims) got slapped on the face hard.
    I hope CAIR and other muslims voices don’t repeat that mistake again.

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