Obama's Pakistan dilemma

US president's election raised hopes of many in Pakistan, but these hopes are fading.


    Obama's popularity has fallen dramatically in the streets of Pakistan

    When Barack Obama, the US president, closes his eyes and thinks of Pakistan, he might just picture the city of Gujrunwala.

    It is what everyone expects of a city in this part of the world, busy, loud and colourful. In the markets, people haggle for the best prices for everything.

    On the streets, the latest cars jockey for space with the motorcycles, the bikes and the carts pulled by donkeys.

    But it is this place, an hour's drive from Lahore, which ties Obama closer to Pakistan than any other US president.

    Obama's mother travelled regularly to the city of Gujrunwala
    For five years, Ann Dunham, his mother, worked in this area as a consultant to the Asian Development Bank, helping with microfinance projects before they became famous or widespread.

    She travelled regularly to the city, walked the streets, met the people and when she talked to her son, she told him what she saw.

    He came to visit, and that was when he developed what he calls his "personal bond" with Pakistan.

    When he took the oath of office a year ago, many Pakistanis were convinced that they had a friend in the White House.

    In our entirely unscientific poll in one of the city's busy markets, it is hard to find anyone who now thinks that is true.

    One man told me: "As far as Obama is concerned only the face has changed, the policies are still the same. He just sent 30,000 troops in to Afghanistan. It's just a continuation of what Bush did."

    Watching us work was a young man who said simply: "I am a Muslim man, and he is against me."

    Obama has often promised Pakistan America's lasting friendship.

    In his speech at the West Point Military Academy on December 1, where he outlined his future policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said: "The Pakistan people must know America will remain as strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity, long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people could be unleashed."

    It is a message the Americans are keen to get across.

    One of Obama's first appointments was Richard Holbrooke, the veteran diplomat, to act as his coordinator in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Af-Pak as it has unfortunately become known.

    Holbrooke repeated his boss' words last week at a news conference in Islamabad. So I asked him if things were different now.

    Continued drone attacks are turning Pakistanis against the US [GALLO/GETTY]

    He listed a number of areas where the two were working more closely together but accepted there were tensions

    "It is our assessment that we are in a better place in our relations with Pakistan than we were a year ago", he said.

    The tensions he talks about are the issue of drone attacks which eats away at America's popularity in Pakistan.

    There are those who suspect that the military and intelligence services privately back this infringement on Pakistan sovereignty, even though they kill more innocent people than militants.

    "This is something which is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan," Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, a political analyst, said.

    "Part of the anger is directed at their own government too because of this suspicion but of course the bulk of the anger is directed at the US government."

    Mushahid Hussain, a former information minister and now a senator in the country's parliament, has followed developments in the US closely and wonders if the president can make the changes he believes he needs.

    He told me: "I hope that Mr Obama realises that this so-called war on terror is an unwinnable war without end against a nameless, faceless, stateless enemy. And he better reverse the wrong and he should realise that the military option is not the answer to winning this war.

    "He should not repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration. If he has to make mistakes I would suggest Mr Obama makes new mistakes."

    Twelve months in, it is perhaps true that Pakistan's government is closer to Washington.

    But it is also true that many people feel let down and disappointed that the hope generated by Obama has not made their lives better, has not made their country safer.

    His challenge in the year ahead and beyond is to take his "personal bond" with this country into something more than warm thoughts of a remembered past in a distant land.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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