Pakistanis hope U.S. under Obama will be less bossy

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Barack Obama’s victory fostered hopes in Pakistan that the United States would become less overbearing towards its ally in the war on terrorism, and nurture the country’s recent return to civilian-led democracy.

U.S. President-elect Sen. Barack Obama faces supporters during his election night victory rally in Chicago, November 4, 2008. Obama's victory fostered hopes in Pakistan that the United States would become less overbearing towards its ally in the war on terrorism, and nurture the country's recent return to civilian-led democracy. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

“I think he will understand that the use of brute force alone creates more enemies and widens the zone of conflict,” Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general turned analyst, said.

“I think he will put greater emphasis on developing civilian capacities,” he added, pointing to a bill proposed by Obama’s Vice President-elect Joe Biden to provide Pakistan with a multi-billion dollar “democracy dividend” package.

Under Pakistan’s previous leader, former army chief Pervez Musharraf, most U.S. aid went to Pakistan’s military. Musharraf quit in August, and his successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, has inherited an economy in danger of meltdown.

Relations between the United States and nuclear-armed Pakistan have been strained by a series of cross-border U.S. strikes, most by missile-firing pilotless drone aircraft, on militant targets in Pakistan.

The strikes have hardened anti-American sentiment in Pakistan at a time when the coalition government is trying to build popular support for its own campaign against Islamist militancy.

Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for International Crisis Group, believed Obama’s victory would lead to a make-over for the United State’s image.

“Obama’s victory will restore not just the faith of Americans in their democracy, but the world’s faith in American democracy,” she said.

“Obama and his party will employ a policy of international engagement that is based on consultation and not intimidation.”

Widely regarded as the hiding place for Osama bin Laden, Pakistan is seen as vital to bringing stability to neighbouring Afghanistan and defeating al Qaeda.

Former Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan said Pakistan would remain in the “eye of the storm, but he expected a more nuanced U.S. approach to its ally: “Democrats have always behaved with restraint and engagement.”

While campaigning Obama said he would authorise strikes against militant targets in Pakistan, if the Pakistani government failed or was unable to act itself.

His rival, John McCain, didn’t rule that out but said a U.S. leader should not say things out loud.

Mahmood Shah, a former security chief in Pakistan’s violence-plagued tribal lands on the Afghan border, foresaw Obama showing “more moderation” once he was in office.

But ordinary Pakistanis were sceptical.

“It doesn’t make any difference if Obama or anybody else has won because they have same anti-Muslim, anti-Islam policies. We shouldn’t be happy just because there’s a change of face,” said Hafiz Mohammad Ashraf, 26, an electrician in the city of Multan.

“I’ll be happy if he ends Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and stops killing Muslims.”