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Old Sunday, March 07, 2010
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Post November 2 BY Dr Farrukh Saleem

November 2 is what it's all about -- Mullah Baradar and Manmohan in Riyadh. American public opinion is what it is all about. November 2 is when Americans elect 435 members of the United States House of Representatives. November 2 is when Americans elect 36 new senators to the United States Senate. November 2 is when Americans elect 38 new governors. Between now and November 2, the game is all about America's mid-term elections.

On January 19, Obama had a great fall when Democrat Martha Coakley, the attorney-general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, lost and Republican Scott Brown, a truck-driver, won -- a seat Democrats haven't lost in 50 years. All the king's horses and all the king's men are now striving to put Humpty together again.

In this region, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and India have been recruited by a bitter American potion so that the Democrats can bear sweets on November 2. Democrats need to show American voters that they are winning Afghan trophies -- and a whole lot of Afghan trophies. The game is mostly about keeping Pakistan on a short leash and moulding American public opinion in order to make the Donkey -- Democratic Party's symbol -- win.

Yes, there indeed is an economic dimension to Saudi Arabia-India parleys. Saudi Arabia recognises that India is on its way to becoming an economic giant while India recognises that a robust economic machine needs to remain well-oiled. But, no Indian prime minister cared to visit the Kingdom in 28 years. Why now?

Saudi Arabia's foreign policy has long been about two things: to keep America's ruling elite in good humour and contain Iran (containment of Iran is where Saudi-American interests converge). India's foreign policy has also been about two things: internationally, India looks for energy sources to fuel its fast-growing economy and within the region India is Pakistan-centric, scheming to encircle, isolate and corner Pakistan.

Obama's Afghan policy has been all about confusion and indecision. It began as a massive 'surge' relying almost solely on military power. The surge was then coupled with a sharp increase in drone attacks and later on -- after the surge and drone attacks -- an element of 'negotiations with the reconcilable Taliban' was added.

Pakistan's counter-insurgency policy has been equally ambiguous and uncertain. It began by concluding 'peace agreements' with elements that were out to capture physical Pakistani terrain. Peace agreements were then followed by military operations against the Pakistani Taliban and only lately has there been a shift to tackling the Afghan Taliban operating out of Pakistani soil.

On February 4, Scott Brown was sworn in by Vice-President Biden as the 41st Republican member of the United States Senate. And, on February 4, President Obama's Democratic Party lost its supermajority in the Senate (supermajority is 60 per cent of votes required to 'bring out a vote of cloture to end a filibuster').

Democrats currently command an 18-seat majority in the Senate and a 77-seat majority in the House. A lot is at stake for Obama; losing the House would mean an end to Obama's agenda of 'change'. To be certain, Obama has a lot at his disposal, including Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. The king is hoping that all his horses and all his men will put Humpty together again.

PS. Pre- and post-election 2008: Atta was Rs13/kg, now it is Rs31/kg. Sugar was Rs21/kg now it is Rs70/kg. Petrol was Rs45/litre now it is Rs70/litre.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. Email:
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