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Candidates’ Pakistan Policies No Different: Pakistani-Americans

22 October 2008 No Comment

By Mateen Kaul

Presidential candidates Senators Barack Obama and John McCain spent significant time in the two presidential debates discussing their potential Pakistan policies, if elected to the Oval Office. But many Pakistani-Americans see these policies as largely the same.

“Obama seems to be more upfront about what his plans for Pakistan would be, while McCain gives the impression he will be more diplomatic, while portraying Obama as more aggressive,” said Rafay Khawaja, 39, a software engineer who moved to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan, in 1990. “But I think they will be very similar in the end.”

Relations between Pakistan and the United States, allies since the 2001 Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, have been strained in recent months following reports that US military forces stationed in Afghanistan have conducted raids into Pakistan in order to strike militant targets.

During the Oct. 7 presidential debate, Obama said he would send US forces into the country to strike militant targets like Osama Bin Laden, if the Pakistani military was unable or unwilling to do so. McCain criticized Obama for “threatening to attack Pakistan,” and said he would coordinate efforts with the Pakistani government and military.

However, many Pakistani-Americans suspect that there will be little practical difference between their policies toward Pakistan, no matter who becomes president. They said the US should
respect Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.

Shahid Khan, 57, an electrical engineer who has been in the US since 2000, said that “both candidates have the same agenda: they want to destabilize Pakistan. The reason for this is China. They want a permanent US base in Afghanistan because of its closeness to China.”

He strongly disagreed with the US policy of conducting military strikes across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

“My question to the candidates would be, ‘What would their feeling be if US borders were violated?'” Khan said.

“Pakistanis want respect for their sovereignty. That’s the general feeling,” added Khawaja.

Laeeq Ahmed, 40 a software engineer who has lived in the US for 10 years, called for more coordination between the Pakistani and American militaries, and more communication between their governments and people.

“We need to understand the root causes of the problems [in the Pakistan-Afghan border area]. Is it an education problem, an economic problem? We need to address these issues first,” he said.

He said he hadn’t decided yet who he would vote for in the presidential election. Ahmed’s main consideration is which candidate will do more for the US economy, “because I live here now.”

Khawaja, who will be voting for the first time, said he had been going back and forth between the two candidates. Now he is currently leaning toward Obama, because he feels the Democrat is more likely to bring change to Washington.

He said the candidates’ policies towards Pakistan and the Muslim world will factor into his choice. “It matters, but it’s not everything,” he said.

Khan said he would vote for neither candidate, because he didn’t agree with their policies on Israel and towards the Muslim world.

“Maybe I’ll vote for Greenpeace,” he said.

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