October 14, 2008 / 8:14 AM / 9 years ago

Q+A-US presidential race seen through Pakistani lens

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By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD, Oct 14 (Reuters) - 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 borderlands.

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 on Pakistan?

“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 said.

“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)

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