Jamsheed Marker, Pakistan’s one time ambassador to the US records in his memoirs that General Zia-ul-Haq, once made a very apt observation about the impact of the American system of elections on Pakistan. Said the General President to the diplomat:“Being friends with America is like living on the banks of a great river. Every four years it changes course, and leaves you either flooded or high and dry.” Gen Zia’s remarks notwithstanding, there is never a major change in US foreign policy with the changes in administration on the Capitol Hill. In fact there is a fair degree of consistency in how the Americans deal with the rest of the world. During the Cold War, it was containment of communism. Side by side they wanted to control nuclear proliferation. After 9/11 it has been the containment of terrorism. In coming years it may be the containment of China.
So what would it mean ifBarack Obama is re-elected or Mitt Romney is able to consign him to dustbin of history as a one-term President? Not much really. In the last presidential debate before Hurricane Sandy took the steam out of the campaign rhetoric, both the President and the candidate underscored the importance of Pakistan and agreed that the country cannot be ignored. From the looks of it, American aid will continue and so would engagement at political, military and intelligence levels. Drone attacks will continue. The intensity may vary. Maximum care will, however, be exercised to prevent a Salala like incident, which could again lead to the closure of the NATO supply lines running through Pakistan. The next four years are crucial as the US forces pull-out of Afghanistan and a new political/militant dispensation replaces the existing rulers in Kabul. There is a possibility of Afghanistan splintering in case the Americans are not able to execute a smooth transition. Such a scenario would of course be very harmful for the regional stability.
There was a time that Pakistanis would rejoice on a Republican victory. There was a general feeling that the Republicans were more favorably inclined towards Pakistan as compared to the Democrats. I think Pakistanis in general have outgrown this fixation. If anyone hasn’t, it is about time that he/she does. The Americans do not believe in giving any free lunches. If they have been soft on Pakistan in the past, they have had their own reasons and they have reaped maximum profits on their investments. So my advice to those reading too much into an Obama or Romney victory, this is a non-issue. The American President irrespective of party colours will do what they or the State Department, Pentagon or the CIA thinks is best for their country. We should concentrate on rebuilding our country in a manner that it is taken seriously by all incumbents of the White House in the times to come.