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January 7, 2021

Good for Pakistan

Opinion

January 7, 2021

Every time a US presidential election approaches, a discussion begins in the Pakistani-American community. Which of the two candidates will be good for Pakistan? What exactly is meant by ‘good for Pakistan’ isn't always clear.

Why would any US president be inherently good or bad for Pakistan? A US president after all, is elected to look after the interests of the United States – domestically and in the global sphere. It is often said that Republican presidents have been better for Pakistan than Democrats. This is hardly backed by any reliable facts.

For example, back in the mid 1990s the US Congress passed the Pressler Amendment that sanctioned Pakistan. It was seen by Pakistanis as unfairly punitive against their country. The author of the amendment Senator Pressler, of course, was a Republican from the state of South Dakota.

There are many examples of US government policies that have been seen as detrimental to the interests of Pakistan – many of these have been enforced during Republican presidents; and yet the notion that Republican presidents are better for Pakistan persists.

Throughout the history of US-Pakistan relations, there have been times when US interests were aligned with Pakistan's and times when these interests diverged. There is nothing in the Republican political doctrine nor in the Democrats’ approach that makes either party’s approach inherently better for Pakistan.

In the lead-up to the election of 2020 some people in the Pakistani-American community who found Donald Trump's corruption and anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim views abhorrent, were still of two minds as to whether or not to vote for Biden – again which candidate will be ‘better for Pakistan’ weighed heavily on their minds. These Pakistani Americans were willing to re-elect an immigrant-bashing, Muslim-hating man because in their judgment he would be better for Pakistan.

An analysis of the election results presented a deeply disturbing picture – while 13 percent of Muslims had voted for Trump in 2016, this number increased to 35 percent in 2020. The reasons cited were manyfold: Kamala Harris’ Indian heritage, Democrats’ support for LGBT rights, or abortion rights – but always the element of ‘good for Pakistan’ was there.

Pakistan will have more constructive relations with the US if it understands that each US president will pursue US geopolitical interests. Pakistanis should try and understand what these interests are and have open and honest dialogue about Pakistan's interests. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be about Pakistan extracting certain favors from the US government but about pursuing mutually agreed goals.

There is also the question of US financial support to the perpetually ailing Pakistani economy. The US can support Pakistan's requests to institutions like the IMF, but how long can Pakistan rely on such an approach? No country that doesn't mobilize enough resources through taxation can ever get on its own feet. Waiting for a more desirable US president to come along is naive at best.

The same is true when it comes to the resolution of cross-border issues. When President Trump indicated to visiting Prime Minister Imran Khan that he would try to mediate on the Kashmir issue, any longtime observer of Trump knew those words meant nothing, just as they turned out to be. The US has important interests in the region such as countering the economic power of China, that will cause it to pursue close ties with India, regardless of how it handles its relationship with Pakistan.

Pakistan will do itself a great favor by first and foremost putting its own finances in order. With that will also come confidence in dealing in its own best interests with the United States or any other regional or global power.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC. Website: www.sqshareef.com/blogs