Pak policy change on Obama radar

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By K.P.NAYAR in Denver
  • Published 25.08.08
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Obama in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday. (AFP)

Denver, Aug. 25: As 4,439 decision-makers of the Democratic Party from all over the US gathered here today to formally nominate Barack Obama and Joe Biden as their picks to lead America for the next four years, there are clear signals for the first time since September 11, 2001 that this country's policies towards Pakistan may undergo major changes.

As the Democratic National Convention 2008 got under way in Denver today, there is unanimity among the party faithful that “the greatest threat to the security of the...American people lies in the tribal areas of Pakistan”.

An Obama presidency “will ask more of the Pakistani government...We will significantly increase non-military aid to the Pakistani people and sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we provide is actually used to fight extremists”, according to the Democratic Party “platform” or manifesto to be adopted by the Convention tomorrow.

Obama, it is clear, has put his personal stamp on his party's Pakistan policy.

The platform says in dealing with Islamabad, “we must move beyond an alliance built on individual leaders or we will face mounting opposition in a nuclear armed nation at the nexus of terror, extremism and the instability wrought by autocracy”.

These are words taken out of Obama’s mouth. On July 15, in a landmark speech outlining his views on foreign policy shortly after Obama secured enough convention delegates to lock up his party’s White House nomination, he had expressed these views on Pakistan.

Like his steadfast opposition to the Iraq war, Obama has been known in the US Senate for his extreme unhappiness with the Bush administration's Pakistan policies. Obama believes Musharraf shortchanged the US on fighting terrorism.

Now with Joe Biden as his running mate, Obama’s views on Pakistan, which are accurately reflected in the platform are only expected to become more crystallised.

This is good news for India because Musharraf and his successor at the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi have repeatedly manipulated the Bush team into diverting US military assistance, meant for fighting terrorism, for the acquisition of offensive weapons against India.

Biden has very definite views on Pakistan. He is one of the few leaders on Capitol Hill who saw through Musharraf’s double talk on terrorism early and was never convinced that America’s interest lay in putting all its eggs in the General's basket.

Last year, Senator Biden asked his chief foreign policy aide on South Asia, Jonah Blank, to initiate a debate through an email list among strategic analysts in this country on American options on Pakistan.

Biden was then seeking the White House, but Blank's exercise was meant to help the Senator in steering decisions within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is chairman.

Blank, who was a student at Banaras Hindu University, learned Sanskrit and Hindi and has written two books, one on the Ramayana and another on the Dawoodi Bohra community highlighting its modernity at a time when Muslims are portrayed in the US as radical religious fundamentalists.

The outcome of the debate, which broke down the stereotype on Pakistan in this country for the first time since Musharraf was hailed by Bush as an ally, will have a bearing on US policies towards Islamabad if Obama is elected president in November.