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Republican US Election Victory Could Impact South Asia

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, right, joined by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., talks about the changes in balance of power in Congress that will elevate him to speaker of the House, 3 Nov. 2010.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, right, joined by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., talks about the changes in balance of power in Congress that will elevate him to speaker of the House, 3 Nov. 2010.

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Many people in South Asia are assessing the results of the U.S. midterm elections.

The opposition Republicans have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives from President Barack Obama's Democratic Party and analysts in Pakistan say that could have an impact on some of America's international policies.

"I think Pakistan will have to understand that there has been a change in the political landscape of the United States," said Retired Pakistani Army Lieutenant General Talat Masood. He points out the U.S. election results were, in part, fueled by voter anger because of the poor economy and U.S. government spending.

Pakistan is one of the major beneficiaries of U.S. foreign aid and receives billions of dollars in economic and military assistance.

The increase in the number of Republicans in Congress is likely to have an impact on bilateral relations, said Masood.

"I think there will be a greater scrutiny as far as assistance is concerned and greater conditionality imposed on Pakistan," he said.  "And I think Pakistan would be expected now to do even a lot more and perhaps there will be even greater pressure on Pakistan."

Terrorism

The United States and Pakistan have been partners in the war against terror, but do not always agree on the best strategy to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida backed insurgents.

The Pakistani Army has resisted any immediate military action against militants in the region of North Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan, which has been a safe haven U.S. military leaders have called the "epicenter of terrorism."

Now an Islamabad-based defense analyst, Talat Masood believes Republicans will bring more demands on the Pakistani Army he says is already stretched too thin.

"Pakistan's sanctuaries in North Waziristan and other areas, perhaps there will be greater pressure that Pakistan launch and clear those sanctuaries," Masood said.

Afghanistan

While the Republicans have generally supported President Obama's strategy for fighting the war in Afghanistan, many have opposed the president's July 2011 deadline for beginning a U.S. troop withdrawal.  They say setting such a date sends the wrong message about the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and could embolden the insurgents to wait out the American military's departure.

Security Studies Professor Riffat Hussain of Quiad-e-Azam University in Islamabad says the Republican victory in the U.S. elections could force President Obama to adjust his strategy for the Afghan war.

"So I think [U.S. and NATO commander] General [David] Petraeus and the hardliners who think that the United States needs more time to make things work in Afghanistan, I think their hands will be strengthened," Hussain said.  "So, I think President Obama may have to shift the withdrawal date and postpone it at least by six months to a year."

Obama's Asia trip

One thing the Pakistanis will be watching very closely is President Obama's overseas trip later this week to its arch-rival and nuclear-armed neighbor India.

Professor Hussain says the key issue for Islamabad is the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, the source of two wars between India and Pakistan.

"It depends how this visit gets played out by the Indian media, and particularly on the very sensitive issue of Kashmir," he explained.  "What is going to be the policy stance or the verbal utterances by President Obama?"       

President Obama has promised to visit Pakistan sometime next year.

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