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Pakistan, Afghanistan Debate How US Election Could Affect Policy

As Americans prepare to go to the poll next week, many citizens of other countries are watching with an eye on how this election will affect them. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad on what Pakistan and Afghanistan expect of the U.S. presidential election.

When Americans decide on November 2 between Republican incumbent George Bush and Democratic Senator John Kerry, people in Pakistan and Afghanistan will also be watching the presidential election with great interest.

This part of South Asia has been in the forefront of the Bush administration's war on terrorism, launched in Afghanistan after the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Pakistan's government, installed by military coup in 1999, quickly repaired strained ties when it became a vital U.S. ally in the fight against the al Qaida terror network. In the past three years it has received significant political and financial support from Washington.

But the Pakistani government expects the recently warm relations to continue between Islamabad and Washington regardless of who wins. Information Minister Shiekh Rashid Ahmed says Pakistan's commitment to cooperate in the anti-terrorism efforts is with the United States and not with any individual.

"We are confident no matter who is going to win," he said. "This is the American nation's decision, whatsoever decision will be, we will welcome that and our commitment is with the world, with the nation, not with a person."

But Hassan Askari, a retired scholar from Pakistan's prestigious Punjab University, is not so sure. He says President Bush has already proven himself as a friend to Pakistan, and officials are somewhat uncertain about future policies of his opponent.

"The feeling here [in Pakistan] is that if [George] Bush is elected the present pattern will continue," he explained. "They understand each other they have been interacting for the last three years. Whereas if new administration comes [and] John Kerry is elected then the parameters of relationship may have to be re-defined."

While Islamabad may be reticent of a possible leadership change, the same may not be true for the average Pakistani. Mr. Askari says there is a feeling among ordinary citizens in Pakistan, and in the Muslim nations in general, that current tensions between the United States and the Muslim community (over U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq) may subside if Senator Kerry wins.

"During the last three years the relations between the U.S. and the Muslims and Muslim world have deteriorated whereas Kerry would start afresh that means that he will have room for maneuver and to show some flexibility in the (current) American policy," he said.

Across the border in Afghanistan, there is less concern about any possible change in U.S. leadership. Mujahid Jawad is a medical doctor in Kabul.

He said that regardless of who wins in the U.S presidential election, the important thing is that the United States must not lose interest until Afghanistan's problems are resolved.

Afghanistan Central Bank Governor Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi says few of his people are worried about that. He explained that both candidates in the American election have already pledged their support to the reconstruction and elimination of terrorism in Afghanistan.

"I think there is a consensus in the United States that Afghanistan used to be the center of terrorists' training, and terrorism is an international problem, its particular problem for the United States and that's why U.S. presence in Afghanistan," he noted. "I think the other camp, the Kerry camp agrees with it."

Mr. Bush has repeatedly vowed not to abandon the Afghans and his Republican Party administration has led the United States to become the country' top aid donor. Mr. Kerry has made similar pledges, and his supporters even held a campaign rally in the capital Kabul, complete with a donkey symbolizing his Democratic Party.