The early frontrunner among the Democratic Party hopefuls to be the nominee to challenge President George W Bush Jr for the US Presidency for the next four years, Governor Howard Dean (of Vermont) mobilized an army of young and dedicated volunteers, and with innovative use of the internet he raised US$ 35 million for electoral campaign expenses. Through most of 2003 the Democratic Party’s hopes for upsetting a confident Bush, with his approval ratings hovering plus of the 70% mark, had remained an impossibility, Dean revived the Democrat grassroots with his strident anti-Iraq war rhetoric. If the print and electronic media at the end of 2003 were to be believed Dean was confirmed as the Democratic nominee bar the shouting, striking a resonant chord among the electorate by mobilizing dormant populist causes. The average vote is deeply suspicious of the Establishment in Washington DC, Dean was the ultimate outsider who was going to clean up government.
Unfortunately for Dean there was one more statistic, in poll after poll in a head-to-head contest he was projected as being badly beaten by Bush. The US electorate is precocious enough to differentiate between romance and realpolitik, what the Democrat insiders had concluded earlier took some time for the voters in the streets to realize, only someone capable of beating Bush has to be the Democrat Party nominee. Dean did not fit this bill and in the very first Democratic primary in Iowa the voters deserted him in droves. It was soon clear that Dean was a spent force notwithstanding a loyal band of young followers who willed him to continue campaigning. Senator John Kerry does not arouse passions as Dean did (or for that matter Senator John Edwards) yet Kerry’s chances of beating Bush at the electoral hustings were better than Dean’s. Whereupon the wry Democratic campaign button after New Hampshire, “dated Dean, married Kerry!”.
During the last US President elections in Nov 2001, most Pakistanis wanted a favourable Republican outcome, tending to believe that Republicans are far more favourably inclined towards Pakistan than Democrats. Night after night, viewers in Pakistan stayed glued to the TV set while the electoral drama played out in Florida and then through the Florida courts ultimately to the US Supreme Court. The Pakistanis did not get to celebrate their “victory” over Democratic Party Presidential candidate Al Gore very long, the US National Security Strategy annunciated by Bush on assumption of the US Presidency eulogized India as a crucial US regional partner with China as a strategic competitor. Pakistan was relegated many rungs below the “most favoured nation” status heaped on India. By the time 9/11 came along, Pakistan was in the doghouse as far as the US was concerned for any number of reasons, you had just to name the world’s major concerns and Pakistan was somehow involved.
The “war on terrorism” changed a lot of things, Pakistan once again became a base for the US onslaught on the Talibaan and the Al-Qaeda. Nearly 30 months and the 2003 Iraq war later, Pakistan remains a frontline State post 9/11, “a cornerstone of US policy”. While on the surface there has been substantial progress in returning normalcy to Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Umar remain at large and the warlords, big and small, are still giving lip-service only to central authority. A Constitution may have been agreed upon by the Afghan Loya Jirga, electoral rolls are a far cry from being completed in the foreseeable future. While rumours abound ranging from “Osama Bin Laden already captured” to his “capture being imminent”, a possible Osama sighting has led to enhanced military activity by the US on the Afghan side of the Duran Line and “reconnaissance in force” by Pakistan Army’s regular units in the Tribal Territories in South Waziristan this side of the Durand Line, a sort of a “hammer and anvil” policy to corner the terrorist kingpin. Even if the US does kill/capture Bin Laden and/or Mullah Umer, the Afghan resistance will hardly die down and unless the Coalition puts more “boots on the ground” in the outlying towns and cities ruled by warlords to enforce the rule of law the turmoil will go on. The resurgence of widespread poppy cultivation has brought a windfall of cash for financing of the warlords’ private armies, that is hardly conducive for democratic norms. Despite all of Pakistan’s visible warts, the US needs Pakistan for the time being, at least that is the policy of the present US Administration.
The US has pursued a very aggressive foreign policy after 9/11 in trying to root out international terrorism. If things had been handled diplomatically and/or with some sensitivity, things would not have got out of hand. Unfortunately a perception of brute force and arrogance has been created. Even traditional US allies have been offended by the seeming callousness, in particular European nations like France and Germany. Establishing a new government agency to look after “Homeland Security”, the US has put restrictions on visas, reformed its immigration policies, enhanced security on entry/exit points, water and electricity facilities, etc, all very well within its rights to protect its citizens, however the finesse and sensitivity in dealing with humanity at large was missing. The rather blunt dealing has alienated a lot of people in the world, the muslims have taken it specially hard as they seem to be singled out as prime targets of USA anger. The US was justified in going to war when the Talibaan refused to close down the Al-Qaeda network but in Iraq using WMDs as a reason was wrong, they should have propagated Saddam Hussain’s record of aggression against his neighbours in getting rid of this brutal and murderous tyrant. While the allies have publicly been supporting the US lately, the bad blood remains barely below the surface, Senator John Kerry has called the US policy arrogant and inconsiderate, labelling the Bush foreign policy the biggest disaster in modern US history.
Pakistanis have generally tended to like US Presidents, some more than others e.g. Richard Nixon was very popular and Democrat Bill Clinton was well liked. Despite affection for George W Bush, Sr, Pakistanis generally dislike his son, the man who at one time they very much wanted to be the US President. Pakistanis are not alone in their perception, George W Bush Jr is taken by most muslims in the world to be anti-muslim, personified not so much by what he has said and done but by the utterances and doings of his close aides Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfwitz, Richard Perle, etc. Over the past two years the animosity has been fanned by post-war developments in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as what is seen to be an anti-Palestinian attitude of the Bush Administration.
A Kerry win over Bush may be the overwhelming desire of Pakistani intelligentsia and masses; would it be good for Pakistan? Having met Senator John Kerry a number of times in Davos one can say he is a man to be really admired but he does not view Pakistan too kindly, these are coloured not only by his preference for India but his involvement in US Senate Committee on (1) money-laundering and (2) terrorism, in both issues Pakistan figured quite adversely. On the other hand Pakistan has been a net beneficiary of Bush policies after 9/11 and has built up a strong working relationship with members of the Bush Administration. Given our precarious geo-political existence and a penchant for lurching from one crisis to another, a change in US policy from being supportive of Pakistan to one of anti-Pakistan could spell disaster for Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistanis may like Vietnam veteran John Kerry and as much as they tend to hate Texas National Guardsman Bush, they will be far better off with Bush in the White House for the next term. Our campaign button for Nov 2004 could well be “DATED KERRY, MARRIED BUSH!”.