For world economy & Americans What should Pakistan be prepared for? (22-01-2009)

Imperfect it may be, but democracy is beautiful. That’s what Barack H. Obama’s swearing in as the President of the world’s most power and richest democracy proved. It is beautiful because as the system evolves it raises people above race, religion, sex and other discriminations. It is beautiful because it inculcates tolerance for the difference of opinion. It is beautiful because it ensures freedom of expression — the freedom that is directly linked with development. It is beautiful because it allows people to change the course of their country through vote and not through ‘barrel of the gun.’ It is beautiful because it is organic and not static and dogmatic. It has the capacity to adjust with the changing values harmoniously avoiding violent clash between the old and new.

Who could have thought some 46 years ago that Martin Luther King Jr’s dream would come true one day? When he said that he had a dream that one day all people will have equal rights, there were still some states in America where the blacks had no voting rights. There were still many hotels, restaurants, schools and universities where the black Americans could not enter. But today when this dream has come true, a black American is the President of the United States of America. Not only is he a black American, but a first generation migrant. The Americans have shown convincingly that they have the democratic spirit to rise above racial discrimination.

It’s not only in United States that people have expressed their democratic spirit. Closer to home our next door neighbour has proved time and again that they are essentially democrats. Many in Pakistan may hate to accept it, but the fact is that India the world’s largest democracy can take pride in rising above religious and caste discriminations. People have voted without discrimination for Muslim presidents, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Dalit architect of India’s constitution and a chief minister of the biggest state of India. No doubt there are always narrow-minded people in every society, but as the democratic process is developing in the world we see that such petty intolerant people are being out-numbered.

Isn’t it something to rejoice about? Isn’t it a moment to once again to broadcast that where Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh are today is thanks to the peaceful democratic struggle of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Even Pakistan is the creation of a peaceful struggle.

Many pertinent questions are however relevant here: Fine Obama’s election as President shows that majority of Americans have beaten racial prejudices, but would he be able to bring peace to Afghanistan? Would he be good or bad for Pakistan? Would he able to bring peace to Middle East? Would he able to lead the world out of the century’s worst economic crisis? And so on…

For a Pakistani the first two questions are most important. Obama has talked about ‘hard-earned peace in Afghanistan in his inaugural speech. Well here he has his tense wrong. There is no hard-earned peace in Afghanistan yet. Yes it has to be earned and sure enough it would be hard and is not near. Can peace be brought by Obama by shipping more troops to Afghanistan, as he plans to do? The answer is it may put more pressure on Taliban, but if that pressure is not converted into forcing and convincing them to come to the negotiated peace table, more troops would do no good. At the same time if more economic assistance is not poured in to Afghanistan, if the governance does not improve there and above all if the roaring heroine trade is not closed, peace would remain elusive in Afghanistan for Barack Obama.

The question whether he would be good or bad for Pakistan is directly linked to his Afghanistan policy. He has already spelt it out for Pakistan that economic aid would be linked to the security we can provide at the North Western borders. Meaning we have to either shove the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, whereby they agree to join the democratic process in Afghanistan, or fight them out. So if we will fail to deliver, he will be bad for the Islamabad establishment. If we are seen as a sincere partner in containing Afghan Taliban and the umpteen Jihadi organisations, he would be good for Pakistan. Thus much depends on our behaviour and using our influence on Afghan Taliban to bring peace to the region.

In the Middle East the announcement to pull out from Iraq in 16 months is a good omen. But the real test for him would be to push Israel to agree to the ‘land for peace demand’ of the Palestinians and Arab nations of the region. He has talked about even-handed approach, but the chances are that American administration would remain tilted in favour of Israel. His new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chief of Staff are known for their pro-Israel views.

On the issue of leading the world out of the present economic crisis, his initial remarks about managing the domestic economic melt-down show that the direction is right. He is talking about doing more for the poor and middle classes of America, about closer regulation of financial and corporate America, about tax cuts for the middle classes and not the rich, about injecting a trillion dollar booster to the ailing economy and about helping the poor countries of the world. All this is good music on the paper, but the real test will be when this composition is played.

To sum it up Obama is both unlucky and lucky. Unlucky to have inherited America that is disliked by majority of the world population and that is going through the economic depression worst than it saw in 1929. And lucky as against a dark Bush era backdrop, even a firefly would look beautiful and a ray of hope.

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