Pakistan: The real swing state

Beenish Ahmed writes: Outside a downtown Islamabad coffee shop that sells an assortment of French macaroons (cupcakes are so passé), I strike up a conversation with Omar Malik.

A 34-year-old who works for a private telecommunications company, Malik seems liberal. Liberal in the way Americans stumbling through Muslim-majority countries might find comforting.

He’s dressed smartly in a collared shirt—with only the appropriate number of buttons unbuttoned. He sips a latte and speaks in flawless, albeit slightly accented, English.

When it comes to American politics, though, he isn’t technically “liberal” —at least as far as U.S. political categories go.

“Republicans have historically always been better for Pakistan than Democrats,” Malik says matter-of-factly. “In terms of the relations that we have had, I think Bush was a much better president than Obama or Clinton was.”

He leans back in his lawn chair when I inquire further. This is not what I expected to hear from a man outside a posh cafe on a Saturday night, but he continues, “In terms of foreign policy, in terms of [not] giving preference to India over Pakistan, the Republicans have been much more balanced,” Malik says.

I remind him of how, when pressed during the presidential debate on foreign policy, Mitt Romney said he’d continue President Obama’s policy of using drones to target terrorist enclaves in Pakistan.

But Malik is resolute. He chalks Romney’s assertion up to campaign rhetoric. The sort of tough-on-terror talk, he says knowingly, that Obama also ran on four years ago.

Pakistan has long been seen by American analysts as a “wildcard” state—a sort of trick card that either appears as a Queen of Hearts or a Joker depending on when, and for how long, you look.

It’s a trick ordinary Pakistanis—who would probably just as readily fill the streets to protest America as they would to claim a visa if the United States decided to offer up them up for free—can play just as well. Nearly three-fourths of Pakistanis polled said they see the United States as an “enemy.” That’s up from 64 percent just three years ago.

As if to say “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” another recent poll found that 43 percent of Pakistanis claimed they should have the right to vote in U.S. elections, a number topped only by people in Kenya, China, India, and Cameroon.

“Pakistanis should be given the right to vote,” says Rahat Khan, a 27-year-old who manages supply orders at a construction company in Islamabad. He adds completely earnestly, “After all, all of the decisions made about Pakistan are made in America.” [Continue reading…]

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