The American dream and the Pakistani denial

The goals of Pakistani Americans in US politics may not align with those of Islamabad

By Dr Manzur Ejaz

Most of the correspondents of Pakistani news networks in Washington and New York were unable to understand why the anchors and commentators back home were not accepting what they were seeing on the ground – that Obama was winning the elections. The analysts back home had wishfully concluded that Mitt Romney would win, and that was what they wanted to hear. The US presidential election has shown that Pakistani opinion makers are in a state of denial. The expatriates are coming around to this reality and disagree with the views back home. Such diverging views may result in a change that may not be to Islamabad’s liking.

While Pakistanis back home, enraged by President Obama’s remarks on Pakistan in a presidential debate, wished him to lose the election, an overwhelming majority of Pakistani Americans voted for all the candidates of the Democratic Party. From young students to the elderly, Pakistani Americans were incensed by Mitt Romney’s rhetoric against immigrants, and concessionary views on student loans and social services, particularly health benefits. Republican Party, crusading against immigrants and asking Washington to deport many of them, had alienated almost the entire expatriate community, Hispanics in particular. Similarly, the conservative onslaught on human rights with racial undertones had angered the African Americans and others. In a way every minority group was unhappy with the conservative Republicans and forged a grand alliance to keep President Obama in the White House.

Pakistani Americans’ solidarity with other minority groups, based on self interest, was a refreshing behavioral change. In the past, majority of Pakistanis had been supporting the Republican Party on the pretext that they were better for Pakistan. This time around, Pakistani Americans had realized that the foreign policies of both the mainstream US parties were similar. The Pakistani American intelligentsia argued that the US foreign policy was formulated by the State Department and the Pentagon, and the legislators and the administration (White House) did not have too much impact on relations with Pakistan. Therefore, the Pakistani community decided to look out for its own interests in the country they live in, the US, and not for the one they have left. Even leaders from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the most vibrant Pakistani-American political platform otherwise making noises against President Obama’s drone policy, campaigned for Democratic candidates.

This change reflects demographic factors, maturation of the immigrant community, and the US hostility towards religious organizations that are suspected to be aiding Al Qaeda and Taliban. In terms of demographics, second generation, and in many cases third generation, Pakistani Americans have reached the voting age. These new Americans do not have as strong emotional ties with their home country as the first generation. It is true that a section of second generation youth has joined extremist religious parties, but they constitute a very small minority. An overwhelming majority is just like other Americans who are hardly aware of Pakistan-US relations. Similarly, as the first generation of expatriates is becoming old, they are becoming more conscious of the old-age benefits provided by the US government. Consequently, they are leaning towards the Democratic Party for its better record to guarantee economic benefits. Lastly, the US campaign against extremist religious formations has scared common expatriates, and therefore faith based organizations are no more the only political forums for Pakistani Muslims. Various mainstream political parties of Pakistan are branching out in North America.

The new composition of the Pakistani American expatriate community will have several consequences for Islamabad and organizations like the Overseas Foundation. Firstly and most importantly, Pakistani Americans are going to be more involved in issues relating to their own interests in the US and will not deploy a bulk of their resources for lobbying on behalf of Islamabad. There are groups of Pakistani physicians who have been lobbying for democratic institutions and human rights. There will be dwindling lobbying sources for selling the Pakistani establishment’s policies in Washington. The new direction of Pakistani Americans may also affect the stream of remittances due to many reasons, one of which may be a call by the US government to refrain from such transactions. In essence, the goals of Pakistani Americans in terms of influencing US politics may not align with those of the people back home.

Courtesy: The Friday Times

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