ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Like the rest of the world, Pakistan watched keenly the electrifying finish to the U.S. presidential election that culminated in President Obama’s victory. But for most Pakistanis, the enthusiasm stops there.
Any change in Pakistan’s caustic relationship with the U.S. in the next four years is likely to be viewed through the prism of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region -- two war-ravaged places where Washington and Islamabad desperately want lasting stability but disagree sharply about how to achieve it.
Both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney touted similar Afghanistan-Pakistan game plans that involve commitments to a U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and a continued reliance on drone missile strikes to cripple Al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Pakistanis remain deeply skeptical of Washington’s withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan. They worry the U.S. will maintain a strong presence in Afghanistan long after 2014, principally as a perch from which to ensure extremist groups do not gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. And a continuation, at least for now, of the drone campaign — seen by most Pakistanis as a blatant encroachment of their country’s sovereignty — will perpetuate the intense animosity many Pakistanis have for Washington’s policies.
“The perception here is that U.S. policy is not going to undergo a major change, in terms of the Af-Pak region,” said Raza Rumi, an analyst with the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad think tank. “U.S. troops will withdraw in 2014. ... But the security establishment—the military, intelligence agencies, defense analysts—feels the U.S. won’t disappear from the region. It will be watching Pakistan closely. More importantly, it will keep Pakistan’s nuclear assets under scrutiny.
“So the Pakistani state is slightly edgy as to what the U.S. wants once Afghanistan is over,” Rumi added. “How will the U.S. observe Pakistan, and what steps will it take?”