Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Elections’


Yesterday, the United States ushered in a new political era with the swearing in of the nation’s 44th president – Barack Obama. In his inauguration speech yesterday, Obama became the first president to address the Islamic World, asserting, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” Although his rhetoric was powerful, I wonder how much real “change” will be underway in Washington. The NY Times wrote Tuesday, “Some abroad bridled and some were reassured by the recurring foreign policy motif of Mr. Obama’s address — his resolve that the United States, as it rebuilds at home, will not give up its long-established role as the leader of the free world. And while many hailed the change of tone, others were uncertain that real change was coming, given the realities of American politics and the world that has not altered with the transition in Washington.”

Nevertheless, I am still cautiously hopeful. Obama, with VP Joe Biden at his side, may take a less polarizing approach to Pakistan, especially given the recent Biden-Kerry-Lugar legislation, which promises an annual $1.5 billion of socio-economic assistance to our country [garnering Biden the prestigious Hilal-e-Pakistan award]. In an op-ed released today, Maliha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador the U.S., wrote, “How Obama manages issues in the Muslim world will determine the success or failure of his foreign policy because it is here that the greatest challenges lie…” In regards to Pakistan, she further noted:

Washington should cease unilateral strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Its aggressive approach has inflamed public opinion, undercut Islamabad’s own counterinsurgency efforts, and risked destabilizing an already fragile country. Instead, Washington should help strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to contain militants. The Obama administration should also break decisively with the Bush legacy of treating Pakistan as hired help rather than as a valued ally. Pakistan has paid a heavy price – both human and in terms of its socioeconomic stability – for being a frontline ally of the U.S. Thousands of people, including 3,000 law enforcement personnel, have been killed in terrorist violence since 2001. The economic cost is estimated to be around $34 billion.

Ultimately, the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the world has been one of relief, to the say the least. Regardless if change is really in the cards, people seemed more than eager for an end to the Bush era. Above are two pictures I took in Washington, D.C. two days ago, where an enormous inflatable George Bush doll was set up for people to throw shoes at. Yes, shoes – a la the Iraq-shoe-throwing incident not too long ago [see related CHUP post]. Every time a person managed to get a pair of shoes around “Bushoccio‘s” nose [as the badge on the doll’s chest read], the crowd cheered. Just a small example of the fervor that persisted in Washington this inauguration week.

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The new President-elect Barack Obama has already begun putting together his new Cabinet. Meanwhile, how the new U.S. administration will handle its array of issues continues to garner major news coverage.  On the foreign policy agenda, Pakistan continues to be at the top of this list. Below, Mahir Nisar, a law student and founding member of the Future Leaders of Pakistan, discusses how an Obama/Biden White House should approach Pakistan:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November. As I sit here watching the victory celebrations for the election of Barack Obama, I cannot quell my envy for the democratic institution in place in the United States. As the chants of “Yes we can,” and the drum-roll of “change” resonate throughout the world, I cannot help but ponder the future of Pakistan and its leaders.

Still marred by the politics of yesterday, Pakistan presents a major challenge to the next administration of the United States. With a failing economy, depleted foreign reserves, lack of investor confidence, and a pathetic credit rating, Pakistan and its allies face the major task of averting a crisis that could impact the entire world. Put plainly, the lack of economic independence for the people of Pakistan creates  further instability for the political system, which inevitably would poses a security threat to the world at large.

With Joe Biden by his side, Obama is sure to gain the wisdom of how to effectively deal with Pakistan. Biden was instrumental in the removal of Pervez Musharraf and the restoration of the Constitution following the declaration of emergency rule. Obama and Biden have both pledged non-military aid to Pakistan, but they must go beyond those promises. They must commit to building relations with the people of Pakistan, not through its government, but via its civil society, students, and lawyers. Outreach through such avenues would be instrumental in empowering the institutions that effectively aid and influence the people of Pakistan.

As a Pakistani, I am most envious of the judiciary’s independence in the United States. For many Pakistanis wishing to see sustainable progress, economic growth and accountability in the country, the judiciary movement has not lost momentum. Obama and Biden must capitalize their support in this effort to ensure the Pakistani people’s support.

As a law student, I have not been a staunch supporter of any particular judge, but I am in support of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. My reasons for being a supporter of the institution over an individual is based on a belief that Pakistan’s current political makeup of 45+ year olds come from the same school of thought – power hunger, corruption, and status building. Perhaps my opinion is naïve and unfounded, but history and the current “genius” leaders seem to be further testament to my assertions. Therefore, I caution the incoming U.S. administration to not further the individualistic aspirations of the current political makeup at the expense of institution building. For this reason, and this reason alone, many members of Pakistan’s youth, including myself, have left the politics of today and are focusing on the politics of tomorrow.

President-elect Obama and his partner should take heed of this view, because the youth of Pakistan, which form the majority of the country, sees a tomorrow filled with greatness, transparency, and accountability. If they truly embody the vision of “change,” Obama and Biden should avoid the short-cut policies of yesterday, and focus on the long-term and sustainable institution-building tactics of today. Strengthening the institutions of Pakistan at the grassroots level would in turn impact global security. The people of Pakistan pray that President Obama and VP Biden will provide the necessary relief and policies that adhere to the “change” their campaign invoked, because “Yes We Can” resonates with all of us, Pakistanis and Americans alike.

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Today, the world woke up to news that Barack Obama had been elected the 44th President of the United States. Considering that voter turnout on November 4th was considerably high, CHUP thought it significant to speak with several Pakistani-Americans about their experiences prior to and at the voting booth. Ramez Qamar, who works for The Resource Group, felt this election was historic, noting, “Americans have been more eager to participate in this election than any in recent memory.” He added, “The atmosphere at the voting stations was one of energy and optimism. I noticed several younger people taking time out from work or school to vote and I was pleased at the number of families that came together to participate as well.” Eman Patel, a program coordinator for an international development NGO, echoed, “The atmosphere at the polls was very encouraging – the focus of the elections seems to have become more about energizing people to get out and vote rather than about partisan beliefs…It says a lot about civil society when children that young are concerned about voting and are aware of their rights.” Law student Fahd Patel further noted, “I feel that more people consider it [voting] to be a civic duty than ever before.”

For Mossadaq Chughtai, the founding director of the Pakistani American Leadership Center [PAL-C], choosing who to vote for was not a difficult decision. He noted, “Though voting for Obama is a risk, it was one worth taking.” Maria Saadat, a student, expressed her frustration with the current policies and crises, adding, “Therefore, like many voters, it was most important for me to pick the candidate I felt had the most potential to offer change, regardless of which party I belong to.” The deciding factor for her, she said, came down to the candidate’s previous voting record and past performance, noting those were an indication of how they would perform as President. For Ramez, his decision came down to issues related to the economy and foreign policy, emphasizing he voted for a candidate who would “help regain America’s standing in the world and contribute to it’s citizen’s prosperity.”

Given that Pakistan has been a major topic in this election cycle, did the candidates’ stances impact Pakistani-American voters? For Fahd, McCain and Obama’s proposed policies on Pakistan affected his decision yesterday, “because of the geopolitical sitation…what’s good for Pakistan is good for the U.S.” Maria, on the other hand, asserted, “I think no matter what each candidate says they will do in terms of Pakistan, the real outcome is unknown. A lot of the President’s policies towards such nations are not simply for him to decide. Congress and the Cabinet play a big role in these foreign relationships.” Mossadaq echoed, “As we all must keep in mind, policy about Pakistan would depend on the candidate’s foreign relation team members.”

Whether President Obama will bring the change he has promised remains to be seen. However, there is no doubt that his campaign ignited the country and inspired many who were never interested in politics to invest in their country’s future. That in itself is revolutionary and made the outcome last night all the more significant and memorable. [Image from Dawn]

For a related source, read Frontline/World’s special, “Pakistani-Americans Stand Up,” part of their Elections 2008: The World Is Watching series.

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It’s official – with 338 electoral votes [270 needed to win] versus Senator John McCain‘s 159, Senator Barack Obama is the next President of the United States!!!

Below is a picture taken by my camera phone of the ridiculous number of people celebrating near the White House in Washington, D.C. [the scene in front of the White House was even more crazy]:


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Today, America votes in a presidential election that has dominated U.S. news coverage for almost two years. Noor Hassan, an Iraqi-American who works in the defense industry in Washington, D.C. and describes himself as “a moderate who is slightly left of center,” discusses the outcome of today’s historical U.S. election from a more pragmatic perspective:

On the eve of this historic election and in the midst of one of the greatest economic crises to hit the United States, it would seem that one thing is certain: Barack Obama will win this Presidential election quite handily. Looking into my crystal ball, I strongly believe it is likely that the Democrats will seize a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and seize 30 more seats adding to their majority in the House. Do you know what happened the last time us Democrats held those kinds of leads? It was 1992 and a man named Bill Clinton won the presidency after 12 straight years of Republican rule. We were at the end [although we did not know it at the time] of 20 years of economic recessions and it seemed like Bill would fulfill all our wishes and those stodgy Republicans were through bossing us around and making us look like cruel aggressors and unilateralists in the international community.

Do you remember what actually happened? The Democrats, us liberal intellectuals, well, we failed big time. We failed on every single count. We passed NAFTA, which has certainly been a double-edged sword as it has led to an expansion of the drug trade and illegal immigration in concert with an expansion in trade. Moreover, Bill and Hillary failed to get universal healthcare passed and not one significant new policy was enacted that most of us could recall today.

Do you remember Bill’s theme song during that first election campaign? If you guessed it was ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,’ then you would be correct. Let us think about the lyrics for a moment. “Everything will be better than BEFORE, yesterday’s gone…yesterday’s gone!” Right? Right…and what CHANGE actually occurred? Well, we got a president who could speak like his voice was coated with molasses and rainbows, was very popular with the American voter and was loved around the world by foreign leaders and foreign audiences. Does no one remember this? What did Bill actually accomplish? The answer…NOTHING.

I love Bill Clinton the politician and the intellectual. I admire his guile, his wit and his charm. However, I still admit he accomplished NOTHING. The economy boomed as a result of the technological revolution and the outsourcing of labor to the developing world, thereby mitigating overhead costs due to low-wage foreign labor and increasing U.S. corporate profits. As with most major economic shifts, this was not because of anything a sitting president did. What did our early 90’s agent of change bring to us? Although he had affairs in the White House, we all still loved him [his approval rating actually went UP during this time!]. He encouraged us to think about what the definition of ‘is‘ is. Does this not remind you of anything? Should anyone forget some of his other gaffes in office, I would like to remind you: his ‘wag the dog’ air strikes against Libya to draw attention away from the Lewinsky affair, his botched humanitarian effort in Somalia, his complete lack of action during the Rwandan genocide, as well as a run of corruption charges to boot [notably Whitewater].

However, in November 1991, Bill was the young, hot, passionate oratory genius who would CHANGE everything with his Democratic majority. I will never forget that election or the passion that his campaign evoked in me because it was when I first fell in love with politics. However, I will also never forget my chagrin when I learned how easy it is to make phenomenal campaign promises and stir up public sentiment by promising CHANGE in Washington. We all believed in Bill, heck, most of us Democrats still love Bill Clinton. It’s too bad that those happy times are a delusion and nothing more. However, it serves as a poignant reminder and ominous warning about how we can twist our minds and our hearts to believe anything if it is delivered to us in a big red bow with our favorite song playing in the background.

I know that many Democrats laud Kennedy the same way that Republicans delusionally prize Reagan as a great President. Before Kennedy’s untimely death, he had failed in Cuba [i.e., the Bay of Pigs], won a Pulitzer prize for a book he did not actually write [thanks Joe Kennedy!] and got us further entrenched in Vietnam. People still love him though, because he was handsome and young and could say things like, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Furthermore, his beautiful young wife and dashing brother completed the Camelot picture. Likewise, the Republicans claim that Reagan was the Great Communicator and the 2004 Republican National Convention was a Reagan lovefest. However, Reagan’s trickle-down economic policies paralyzed this nation, he was caught in the middle of Iran Contra, and anyone who gives one President credit for the fall of the Soviet Union needs to take a few classes on the Cold War. Furthermore, it is now clear that the man was suffering from Alzheimer’s while in office. Yet, still, because of the red bow delivery of the enigmatic Reagan, he is viewed by Republicans as a national hero.

That brings us to this year’s election. The Democrats will win – oh yes, by a large margin – but I would really have to wait and see how this one plays out, because, as far as I am concerned, there has not been a great Democratic president since Truman.  The pundits and commentators are cautious to say it because of President Bush‘s last two wins but all the numbers point towards a potential landslide victory for Obama. Also, record voters are hitting the booths which can only be good for Obama and the Democrats since the groups that rarely vote and support the Democratic party [college students and minority groups] will actually be at the polls this year. For all of you that view this election as an ‘US vs. THEM’ and you are a Democrat, then the question  is not whether ‘we’ will win, but what will Barack Obama do with it? Quite frankly, I expect him to be popular, pass some legislation that annoys me, pass some legislation I agree with – nothing revolutionary, and nothing new. Politics on Capitol Hill and the White House will remain the same.

Barack Obama raised more money than any candidate in history and even had enough left over to run a 30-minute infomercial. I sit here and I wonder whether this is Kennedy and Clinton all over again. Do we fall in love with a package that sings and talks better than all the rest? I pray that the substance matches the rhetoric but history warns me. What we need is not more of the same, but a revolution of the spirit. I highly doubt the young politician from Illinois can bring us what we seek, a return to faith in the American dream. [Image from BBC News]

If you would like to become a contributor for CHUP, email your article [no more than 700 words please] on a pertinent issue facing Pakistan to Kalsoom at changinguppakistan@gmail.com.

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Today, Americans Decide

On Tuesday, November 4, Americans will vote in a historic presidential election that has ignited not just the country, but the entire world. Although the U.S. media has obviously focused heavily on this election, it has also been widely covered by international news agencies. In fact, according to a BBC World Service poll released last month, which surveyed people in 22 countries around the world, Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama was universally preferred over Republican nominee Senator John McCain. On average, 49 percent would like to see Obama prevail, while only 12 percent prefer McCain. Many of those polled said an Obama presidency would “fundamentally change” their perception of the United States. Regardless of whether or not that will truly occur if he is elected, such reasoning is still notable.

In Pakistan, such a preference seems to hold true, but is nevertheless complicated by statements made by the Democratic senator in the past year, [see related CHUP backgrounder]. However, despite his more hawkish assertions regarding Pakistan, [namely him saying that if the United States has Osama bin Laden in their sight and Pakistan is unwilling or unable to take him out, America will take him out], he has indicated his support for Pakistan’s democracy and for a dramatic increase in non-military aid. In an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, Obama asserted, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focussed not on India, but on the situation with those militants.” Dawn cited the interview on Monday, noting that Obama emphasized, “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan. And we’ve got to work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you.”

As U.S. attention has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan has increasingly come into the spotlight, and without a doubt has been a hot topic in the 2008 elections, [see CHUP’s coverage of the presidential and VP debates]. As a result, the U.S. elections have been widely covered in Pakistan. An editorial in The News noted today,

Obama has not repeated his threat of attacks on Pakistan. But he has spoken of targeting Osama bin Laden, and taking him ‘dead or alive’. The bullish element in the Obama mix as such stays intact, but given that he has also mentioned closing down the notorious Guantanamo Bay jail, his policies may well offer more that is good than bad.

The editors in Dawn’s Tuesday edition commented on Obama’s recent statements on Kashmir, noting, “By focusing on Kashmir, Mr. Obama has indicated that he understands the dynamics of international politics in South Asia.” Although The Nation’s editorial echoed that the Democratic nominee’s Kashmir statements have “inspired hope,” the news agency ultimately noted, “Whether the new President will come up to the expectations will become clear once he is in the saddle. The world will therefore have to wait for a few more months.”

Currently Obama leads McCain in the national polls – the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53% to 44%, CBS News a nine-point advantage, 51% to 42%, while Fox News reports that he is seven points ahead, 50% to 43%. However, while many media outlets have already called the election in favor of Obama, I believe nothing is certain until the last votes are counted tomorrow. Therefore, stay tuned – CHUP will be updating this site as the results come in tomorrow evening, EST. [Image from GEO News]

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The first and only U.S. vice presidential debate between Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin just came to a close, and while I feel it was a clear win for Biden, Palin far exceeded my expectations. Viewers seem to agree – 84% of CNN viewers felt she did better than expected. Given the Governor’s recent “disastrous” interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, many believed tonight’s debate would be a repeat of such performances. Nevertheless, CNN’s opinion poll still found that debate watchers felt Biden did a better job by a 51% – 36% margin.

Now on to the foreign policy part of the debate, specifically the candidates’ responses related to the posed question, What’s the greater threat: a nuclear Iran or an unstable Pakistan? While Biden acknowledged that both scenarios were “equally dangerous,” he turned the question into a criticism of Republican presidential candidate John McCain‘s policy about terror instability. He asserted,

John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it’s going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from Al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s where they live. That’s where they are. That’s where it will come from.

Biden also emphasized his support for Pakistan’s democracy “by helping them not only with their military but with their governance and their economic well-being.” Sen. Barack Obama‘s running mate addressed the issue of madrassa reform, stating, “There have been 7,000 madrasses built along that border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we’re actually able to take on terrorism…” He also asserted, like Obama has in the past, that if the U.S. has credible and “actual” intelligence, they will go after Osama bin Laden, who “lives in that [border] area.”

Governor Palin responded to the question by stating,

Both are extremely dangerous, of course. And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was Gen. Petraeus and Al Qaeda, both leaders there and it’s probably the only thing that they’re ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq. You don’t have to believe me or John McCain on that. I would believe Petraeus and the leader of Al Qaeda.

The candidates addressed other foreign policy issues, including diplomatic relations with Iran, the possession of nuclear weapons, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The major focus, however, was undoubtedly the war in Iraq, as well as its relation to the war in Afghanistan. Palin suggested, “The surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan.” She asserted the U.S. will also win in Afghanistan because of Coalition forces “securing democracy,” “fighting terrorists,” and “building schools for children.”

Biden countered that with Afghanistan, “facts matter,” asserting, “The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge – the surge principles used in Iraq will not – well, let me say this again now – our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.” Palin responded, “Well, first McClellan did not say definitively that the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan…The counterinsurgency going into Afghanistan — clearing, holding, rebuilding the civil society and infrastructure — can work in Afghanistan. And those leaders who are over there, who have also been advising George Bush on this, haven’t said anything but that.”

On that point, Biden was referring to a Washington Post article released today citing the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who stated that while more U.S. troops are needed to fight the war there, “no Iraq-style surge” will end the conflict in the war-torn country. “The word I don’t use for Afghanistan is ‘surge,'” but a “sustained commitment to a counterinsurgency effort that would require a political solution, he told the Post. Moreover, despite Palin’s repeated referrals to that U.S. commander as McClellan, his actual name is, Gen. David D. McKiernan. Perhaps the Governor confused him with Maj. Gen. George McClellan, who led the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War?

During the debate, Biden demonstrated a more clear understanding of Pakistan, although to be fair, Palin didn’t really address Pakistan at all, except to insist that the central front of the war on terror is in Iraq. In that regard, it was a markedly different discussion compared to last week’s presidential debate, [see CHUP’s past coverage], when the candidates argued over the issue of attacking Pakistan. Although several people felt that Obama’s comments were off base on Pakistan last week, [and felt that McCain was more knowledgeable about the terrain], it is significant that his running mate took a more insightful approach when addressing the issues facing the country. [Image from the NY Times]

For a full transcript of the debate, click here.

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