Obama—the view from Pakistan

There are only a few topics the media here in Pakistan is more obsessed with than India and its nefarious “unseen hand”. Foremost among these is ‘Amreeka’ our ally of good and useful times since Independence, and frequent ruler through various quasi governments here. Kindly referred to here by pundits and journalists alike as “Mai baap”, it came at no surprise that our press and TV went ballistic during Election 08 in the U.S.

It all took off during the primaries when we got pretty excited as a nation that Obama’s father was a Muslim, and so was his step father, and that (according Fox TV) he was religiously indoctrinated in some hush-hush madrassah in Kenya and then in Indonesia for four years. We went as far as to extol the virtues of him not being “one of them“. How cool it would be to have a Muslim in the most powerful seat in the world. Obviously in the world of today everyone is looking for a foot in the right door, and the White House is one hell of a door.

This was followed by echos of all kinds of allegations from Obama being in league with former terrorists and student activists, to him wanting to rain bombs into Pakistan on credible intelligence which dampened our collective spirits so as to speak. We then tuned our compasses in the direction of the softer candidate as per the Gallup poll taken on April 1.

To me though Hillary Clinton as a choice was surprising because historically Pakistan has been in bed with the Republicans for the longest time, obviously this has mostly to do with us fighting wars on their behalf first in Afghanistan in the Zia era and then later inside Pakistan in the Musharraf era. Suffice to say billions of dollars in aid was provided because Republicans like speaking to a one-man government and we were more than happy to provide that in the form of one military dictator after another. Plus the fact that Democrats tend to lean towards India was played up to a tizzy in our local Urdu press.

However with the dawn of the new democracy here in Pakistan, crippled as it may be, most people were looking for some sort of change in world politics to catch our breath as a nation, and perhaps this is why they were in favour of Hillary Clinton as the other two seemed a bit too aggressive in pursuing war policies. With that candle blown out by the democratic nomination going Obama’s way our press and media simultaneously decided to go completely rah rah in favor of Obama even though he promised to take decisive action against the people in them hills. This was aptly witnessed by articles such as this one which chose to justify him as someone who was in touch with the world more than McCain whom most Pakistani’s regard as something of a senile geriatric. No one does about turns like our media and they went to no end to discount his war rhetoric with pieces on his humanity his charm and what not On the blogsphere things were no different as most of Pakistani bloggers comprise of the elite literati. Liberal and free speaking they supported Obama hands down as “The One”, many even sported his badges and widgets on their web pages, assuring their readers of a new dawn of change trickling down to us if he was elected.

Well now that Obama has been elected. The initial “Yes we can” articles have suffered a rude shock by the appointment of Rahm Emmanuel, a Jew (read “horrible people with intent to blow us all to smithereens”) as his chief of staff. Right now the papers are desperately seeking any new snippet, any tidbit from his exercise regimen to his “alleged soft corner for Muslims” to keep the viewers and readers interested.

If only we as a nation knew just what to make of our fair weather friends through our long chequered history of them. Frankly, his appointment may lead to the fabled baseball diamond on the South Side White House lawn being replaced by a basketball court, but thats about the only “real” change it will bring in D.C. Even if he is The One, we know he is not the one for us, even if he promises to end the Kashmir conflict the ground reality is the people of Pakistan are fed up of the Kashmir conflict and various other conflicts we seem to be interested in rather than giving our 160 million inhabitants the basic necessities of life. As a rickshaw (auto) driver pointed out to me yesterday, what matters to him is the price of LPG he puts in his auto not the fate of a valley he will never see or be able to vacation in.

As published in The Hoot (9th Nov 2008)