Saturday, January 5, 2008

Obama's History-Making Win and Implications for Pakistan

Barack Hussain Obama's historic win in Iowa caucuses clearly signals that desire for change in America is strong and all-encompassing. The scope of this change includes a new willingness to accept a black man as commander-in-chief, a break from the Bush policies such as the choice of military force over soft power and diplomacy in international affairs, and increasing concern to provide ordinary citizens with broader access to healthcare and education. The people of Iowa strongly endorsed Obama's message of change and rejected Hilary's message of experience as continuation of the business-as-usual rather than a strength. After the win, Obama said to a wildly cheering supporters, "They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. Our time for change has come." Obama's victory speech carried live on national TV was widely well received. Some even compared it with the memorable speeches of FDR and MLK. The Obama candidacy has energized a lot of people, including a large number young men and women, and brought them into the electoral process. Just look at how large a presence Obama supporters have on Facebook and college campuses.

Here's what Obama wrote on his Facebook page right after his election win: "We just won Iowa, and I'm about to head down to talk to everyone.
Democrats turned out in record numbers tonight, and independents and even some Republicans joined our party to stand together for change.
Thank you for everything you've done to make this possible."

From this message, it is clear that Obama wants to tap the clamoring for change in America by all, including Republicans. He wants to be a unifier to lead this effort for positive change in America.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this race, Obama has already made history by winning in Iowa as the first black presidential candidate. The fact that it happened in Iowa, the first state to vote in primaries and the state with more than 90% whites, is particularly encouraging for those of us looking for big changes in the US.

Comparing the hard-fought primaries for the political parties here in the US with the political parties in Pakistan, the less said the better. In Pakistan, Hilary Clinton would have already been crowned the leader of her party for life. It would be quick and efficient and still be considered entirely "democratic".

Here's a video of Obama's widely-acclaimed speech after the Iowa win:

I have received a number of questions from my Pakistani friends on Obama's views from Pakistani perspective. Here is how I explain what Obama's win is likely to mean for Pakistan:

The US presidential elections are won mainly on domestic issues except
the last election in the aftermath of 911 where security issues figured
prominently and George W. Bush won.
Obama made statements about unilaterally sending US troops into Pak
that were widely ridiculed in the US. He has since backtracked on
those statements. US presidential candidates (with a few exceptions)
are not very knowledgeable about the world and rely mainly on experts
when the time comes to make policy. Obama will do the same, if he gets
any further from the first two or three primaries.
Democrats in general tend to favor democracy and human rights (since
the Carter administration) rather than dictators often favored by
Republicans. Democrats also tend to be more pro-India and pro-Israel
but usually are not pro-war. They are likely to emphasize
soft power and diplomacy if they win the White House.
A Democrat in the White House is not going to be good for President Musharraf,
unless Musharraf really changes his ways.
The Democrats will probably reach out more to the civil society and
political parties in Pakistan. The bottom line will still be to support secular
forces and weaken the religious elements. Maulana Fazlur Rahman may be
an exception to this. He is seen as someone who can help neutralize
the anti-US elements in NWFP and Baluchistan.

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