CHUP was asked to participate in a “blogging discussion” with PBS/Frontline on reactions to last week’s U.S. presidential debate. Below is the pasted text of the Q&A [click here for the original piece on the Frontline website]:
FRONTLINE/World: What is the most important foreign policy issue facing the next U.S president? And do McCain or Obama have the right policies to tackle this?
Kalsoom: I think the shift of the war’s focus from Iraq to Afghanistan will be the most important foreign policy issue facing the next U.S. president. As a result, Pakistan will certainly be the biggest strategic concern.
How do you feel Obama and McCain addressed the issues facing Pakistan?
I blogged about it right after the debate, and this is what I wrote: “At the peripheral level, John McCain took a much softer approach on Pakistan, emphasizing that aggressive statements about U.S. attacks against Pakistan are counter-productive and risk alienating the Pakistani population and government. He spent the majority of the time criticizing Obama’s “hawkish” stance on the country. Barack Obama reiterated his previous stance, asserting that if Pakistan wouldn’t go after Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, and if the (militants) were in sight, the U.S. military would take them out.
Regardless of political posturing, the U.S. will always act according to its national security interests. If Coalition forces are being killed by militants in cross-border attacks, it inherently threatens U.S. security; that would be true for any country. The difference in this presidential election is that Obama openly acknowledges this reality, while McCain merely chooses to equate it to an attack on Pakistani sovereignty.
How would you feel about the next president continuing covert actions inside Pakistan to hunt down al Qaeda or the Taliban?
How any Pakistani would feel — outraged and frustrated. The U.S. should have learned its lesson during the past five years in Iraq and Afghanistan — in order to win “hearts and minds” in the Islamic world, tangible military victories are not the only answer. The primary battleground is ideological. If the U.S. continues covert actions in Pakistan, violating Pakistani sovereignty, it risks further exacerbating anti-U.S. sentiment and increasing sympathy for militants.
How should the increasing power of Islamic militants both in the frontier region and the country at large be handled?
It should be handled by the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government. Although the government has been inefficient in dealing with this threat in the past, they have indicated a new resolve to work with the military to counter militancy in the frontier areas. This has to be seen as Pakistan’s war, because the increasing power of these militants can only be countered if the Pakistani people are against it. In the past, many people did not cooperate because it was perceived as the American war on terror. However, with several recent high-profile attacks on Pakistani civilians, many Pakistanis are increasingly viewing this as “our war.”
How should the next U.S. president engage with the Pakistani Army, a historically powerful institution, in fighting terrorism and maintaining stability in the country?
I think there should be a transparency between U.S. and Pakistani forces and a sense of cooperation. The U.S. should also recognize the efforts of the Pakistani military in the Swat and Bajaur regions — many Pakistani soldiers have been killed in these operations.
The rest of the discussion with other bloggers, [including a notable one with Pakistani blogger Arif Rafiq from the Pakistan Policy Blog], can be viewed by clicking here.