Will Obama's reelection change the US-Pakistan relationship?

Some Pakistani officials are quietly hoping Obama's reelection will help relations between the two countries, particularly if Sen. John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Akram Shahid/Reuters
A supporter of the religious political party Sunni Tehreek covers an image of US President Barack Obama, attached to an effigy, during an anti-American rally in Hyderabad, Pakistan, in this September 2011 file photo.

As news of President Obama's victory reaches Pakistan, many say they do not expect any substantial change in US foreign policy toward the country.

But some Pakistani officials and politicians are quietly hoping that perhaps a cabinet reshuffle and a strengthened mandate, now that reelection pressures are eased, could soften an otherwise tense relationship between the two countries.

And rumors that Sen. John Kerry (D) from Massachusetts could replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has some officials hoping that the former's many-year relationship with Pakistan could pave the way for an even smoother cooperation.

“It is of course up to the US president to appoint the Secretary of State. However, if speculations about Kerry become true, then that would be a positive development – and a lot easier. Kerry has many friends in Pakistan. He obviously knows the region, and the ins and outs of our relationship,” says Fawad Chaudhury, a special assistant to Pakistan's prime minister.

Kerry was one of the US senators who sponsored the $1.5 billion annual Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package to Pakistan, and is known for his relationship with the country. He paid visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden, in an effort to save the rocky partnership.

Some within the security establishment agree. “I think he is more soft and understanding toward Pakistan. There may be a better relationship between the two as a result,” says a security official who preferred to remain unnamed.

The official also predicts that Obama's reelection could have given him a strengthened mandate to pursue the foreign policy line – and vision – that he laid out during his first presidential campaign.

“This time he might be more bold, and have more space to make his own decisions. In the first term, the CIA and Pentagon were calling the shots. Now Obama is less worried about reelection, and can ensure that the State Department sets the line,” says the official.

In an interview before the election, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said he tentatively agreed that an Obama win would benefit Pakistan. “Obama's instincts are basically right. Let's hope if he wins the second term, we see a different Obama,” he said.

Even Pakistan's right-wing Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) appears hopeful. “Less pressure on Obama could create some space for small changes in their policy. Perhaps Obama could move closer toward the message he gave the Muslim world in his Cairo speech. But time will tell,” says Fareed Ahmed Paracha, JI's deputy secretary general. 

But Dr. Paracha also echoed the broader apparent disinterest of the Pakistani public in Obama's victory. “The bottom line is that we need to get our own house in order,” he says. "The US, as such, does not matter."

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