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By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD Oct 14 Few places apart from Iraq
have loomed larger in the U.S. presidential campaign than
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Barack Obama and John McCain have spoken of the need for
more focus on defeating the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan
and eradicating the al Qaeda threat from Pakistan's
For Pakistanis, the alliance with the United States has
been hard to sell and anti-American sentiment is rife.
Relations with Washington were strained by a series of U.S.
missile strikes and a commando raid against militant targets in
Pakistan, but Islamabad is in desperate financial straits and
needs foreign support.
Following are some observations by analysts, including
American experts on the region.
Q: Did analysts think either candidate had shown they would
look afresh at policy towards the region?
"My sense is that the military component of both of their
strategies may look fairly similar," said Nathaniel Fick, a
fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington
think tank, who has advised the Obama campaign.
Marvin Weinbaum, of the Middle East Institute think tank in
Washington, said both had failed to stake out policies that
went beyond military or security concerns.
"I am talking at this point about development ... We are not
going to succeed with simply killing more people," said
Weinbaum, who has advised the Obama campaign on South Asia.
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general-turned-analyst,
said whoever won was likely to emphasise the need to build
Pakistan's capacities to make it "a viable state".
"That would be both in counter-insurgency capability and
economic and social development to resist militancy," he said.
Q: Who did analysts think was likely to put most pressure
"They can only go up to a point because I don't think the
present state of the economy and their present lack of success
in Afghanistan will allow them to enlarge the arena of conflict
in Pakistan," said Masood.
Political analyst Rashid Rehman said, despite a difference
in tone between Obama and McCain, he didn't think they would
act very differently when it came to the issue of missile
strikes or incursions.
"One is more emphatic ... Obama says 'go in bomb or pursue
al Qaeda on Pakistani territory, or do whatever is necessary',
and McCain has a perhaps more nuanced policy to keep Pakistan
onside, and only do that as a last resort," Rehman said.
Shamshad Ahmed Khan, a former foreign secretary, said he
suspected Obama's statements were campaign rhetoric. He didn't
expect a Democrat administration to be as "belligerent".
"I personally believe that it's the Republicans who have
already been pressurising Pakistan to an extent which could be
described as virtual military intervention inside Pakistan.
There cannot be any pressure worse than that," Khan said.
Q: Who did analysts believe was likely to be more generous
in terms of funding and nurturing Pakistan's democracy?
"The Democrats have already taken the initiative. Biden as
chairman of Senate's foreign relations committee ... has
already moved a bill in the Senate to reformulate relations
with Pakistan," Khan said.
Q: Did analysts see any reason for the Pakistani military
to be nervous about either candidate?
"There is agreement it appears that they want to have
tougher positions vis-a-vis Pakistan, if Pakistan is unwilling
or unable to control the Afghan Taliban," said Shuja Nawaz, a
Washington-based expert on the Pakistani military.
Q: Do analysts see either side being better disposed to
India than Pakistan?
Pakistani analysts were critical of the Bush administration
over its deal to supply nuclear technology to India for civil
power generation because of the danger of favouring one side
too much, and for increasing a risk of proliferation.
"India is regarded as the more important partner, the more
strategic long-term partner. Pakistan is seen more or less as
an errant child that has to be kept under control," Rehman
"Whether Obama or McCain wins, I don't think that is going
to make any difference to that strategic attitude."
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed)