How Can the Presidential Campaign Work for U.S. in Pakistan?
The crises of 2011 are ripping apart a working relationship with Pakistan. Controversy over CIA agent Raymond Davis, the raid on the bin Laden compound, accusations of ISI support for the Taliban, civilian casualties caused by drone attacks, and now NATO airstrikes on Pakistani soldiers have roiled emotions. One must view these events as a whole, not individually. They are tying the hands of Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders in cooperating with the U.S. to fight our common enemies. Here, political attitudes and opinions on Capitol Hill and among voters have hardened, complicating our ability to forge policies that enable effective engagement with Pakistan.
The interests of both countries mandate that Pakistan’s military and elected government unite in fighting violent extremism. One needed step is strong Pakistani communication campaign to marginalize and de-legitimize the extremists. That could lay the political foundation for taking the military battle to militants. They’ve at time proven they can do that. But the controversies over U.S. actions have instead led Islamabad to adopt policies that obstruct fighting extremists. Success requires that we work together to overcome the widely shared perception that the U.S. deliberately seeks to abuse Pakistani sovereignty and that cooperation with us makes the military or civilians American pawns.
Another key is our Presidential election campaign discourse. It affects attitudes and opinions among Pakistani elite policy makers. In a 24/7 global media environment, Pakistanis closely follow what’s said here. Measured language is vital. Pakistani politics breeds conspiracy theories. Like or dislike Pakistan, we need to engage with it, and do so effectively. Americans dismiss our campaign rhetoric. Pakistanis don’t. Words matter. Words said on the campaign trail can later haunt whoever occupies the Oval Office.