Skip to main content
Part of international coverage of

Obama's 'hope' message a mirage for hostile Pakistanis

By Masud Alam, Special to CNN
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
Pakistanis burn a U.S. flag during a protest against an anti-Islam movie in Islamabad on September 15. Columnist Masud Alam says relations between the two countries are at an all-time low. Pakistanis burn a U.S. flag during a protest against an anti-Islam movie in Islamabad on September 15. Columnist Masud Alam says relations between the two countries are at an all-time low.
HIDE CAPTION
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
Election 2012: Postcard from Islamabad
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alam: Islamabad's "civil society" keeping tabs on upcoming U.S. election
  • Alam: Average Pakistani has a negative view of America
  • Alam: Many believe Pakistani government is more loyal to U.S. than its own people

Editor's note: Masud Alam is a former BBC journalist and 1996 Fellow of Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship. He is currently based in Islamabad and writes weekly columns for The News on Sunday and Dawn.com.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- When Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election in 2008, people in Islamabad exchanged congratulatory text messages.

As he delivered his famous "yes we can" victory speech in Chicago, people in Islamabad eagerly watched the entire live telecast, cheering or exclaiming every sentence. Some ended up crying tears of joy.

Pakistan's melodramatic response to American politics was exclusive to that time. It was, and still is, an exception rather than the rule.

Postcard: Baghdad places little faith in election

So far, this year's U.S. election has only featured in the international news segment of flagship bulletins, the inside pages of English-language newspapers, and the occasional mention on late-night current affairs programs. It is not something people discuss with friends and colleagues. Some feel compelled, because of the nature of their work, to stay informed of world events. There are some whose interests are tied to the decisions made in Washington, D.C. These are the only people who follow the U.S. election story.

The people of whom I speak can loosely be termed the "civil society" of Islamabad. They are well-meaning people, but people who mean different things. There are students and teachers among them, leftists, modern Islamists, artists and writers, business people and professionals, people who want a revolution in Pakistan now and people who are resigned to the fact that it's not happening in their lifetime -- and they are very few in number.

Postcard: "Ignore us at your peril," Afghans say

For the middle and lower middle-class majority of Islamabad, the U.S. presidential race is only of marginal interest.

The man on Islamabad's streets is fairly clear in his conviction that the United States is one, or several, of the following: the Satan, the bully, the flag carrier of brutal capitalism, the enemy of Islam, the friend and benefactor of Israel, the blinding light of modernity, the abyss of moral depravity, the ugly face of imperialism, and other epithets given from the pulpit of mosques, pronounced on street banners and graffiti, and echoed in Op-Ed pages of Urdu-language newspapers.

It is a measure of success for the anti-U.S. agenda that the public hatred for America overrides facts as conveniently today as it did in the 1980s.

Postcard: Athenians fear what follows U.S. election

When Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" came out -- and was promptly banned by Pakistan -- thousands of people vented their anger against the British author of Indian ancestry (whose book was published in England) by demonstrating at the U.S. mission in Islamabad.

When some "hurtful" cartoons are published in Norway, a few Pizza Huts will be burnt down in Karachi and Lahore. When a man purported to be a Coptic Christian based in the United States makes a cheap spoof of a film about Islam -- presumably to stoke the fire of religious hatred in Middle East -- two dozen Pakistanis die during the ensuing protests, trying to reach American diplomatic and cultural missions in the country.

Pakistanis are also quite resigned to the fact that the government in Islamabad -- which is led alternately by the right-leaning Muslim League or the "progressive" Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) -- is always more loyal to the United States than its own people, and that every U.S. government -- be it Democrat or Republican -- always supports the military or civilian despots in Islamabad and is therefore always pitted against the common Pakistani.

But then 2008 was different.

Postcard: Should U.S. raise fist to Cuba?

Pakistanis had just gotten rid of General Pervez Musharraf, and had voted in a PPP-led coalition government. Politicians of all shades were speaking as one for the common man; reconciliation, consensus, and change were the buzzwords. Democracy was being touted as the best revenge against undemocratic forces.

A mass movement, led by lawyers, sought the restoration to office of nearly 60 superior court judges who had been placed under house arrest by Musharraf. The movement was gaining momentum and it seemed only a matter of days before the rule of law was established.

Come the election in November and the wind of change blew in the faraway United States as well. The unthinkable happened. Obama -- a black, first generation immigrant -- had been elected to lead the sole superpower.

For Pakistanis, the timing and the lead-up to Obama's victory was too tempting to be ignored as just a coincidence. Pakistan was changing, and the U.S. was changing -- for the better.

More: Get latest news at CNN Election HQ

The world was finally going to be peaceful and prosperous for all. And what Obama said in Chicago, addressed exclusively to Americans, was taken as spoken to Pakistanis: "This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids, to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace."

Fast forward to 2012. Pakistan remains in tatters and without hope. Rampant corruption, pathetic incompetence and callousness towards the plight of the people are the defining attributes of the last episode of Pakistan's "return to democracy," renewing the public's cyclical appetite for military rule.

Across seven seas, Obama's presidency too has brought disillusionment. In the minds of many Pakistanis, the U.S. has proved to be the same two-faced hypocrite they always thought it was -- defending free speech when it comes to anti-Muslim propaganda like the Mohammed film, yet at the same time condemning anti-Semitism and coming down hard on government whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Postcard: Why India longs for U.S. election

At the same time, U.S-Pakistan relations are at an all-time low. Here in Islamabad, we are where we have always been: A state living on the edge of being labeled a failure, with a population that largely believes America is indeed the Satan, the bully, the oppressor, working in league with our government and our military, against us.

Change is a mirage, as they say. Hope is dope. Life is miserable and death comes cheaply.

Interest in U.S. elections? Pakistani politicians will have a hard time getting people interested in their own elections, due in a few months time. Obama can win or lose for all Pakistanis care, against ... what's the name of his opponent?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news in Campaign 2012 at CNN's Election Center. There's the latest news, a delegate counter and much more.
From Cuba to South Africa to Japan, people on five continents tell CNN what they're looking for in a U.S. president.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
The dead-even U.S. election race reflects the nation's deep political chasm across the country. CNN brings you the best election day pictures.
As Americans head to the polls Security Clearance takes one last look at some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the candidates.
They represent a sliver of the electorate, yet their choices on Election Day could make a difference.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Chinese artist and political dissident says the American system has flaws -- but that China's system is "inhuman."
October 10, 2012 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
Afghans fear the silence over the bloody 11-year-old war during the U.S. campaign means it is no longer a foreign policy priority.
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Memories of his father may be fading in Kenya -- but from the clubs to the teeming barrios for which Nairobi is notorious, his son is widely admired.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
A look back at CNN's election night coverage, going all the way back to 1980.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Hugo Chavez has endorsed Barack Obama, calling him a "good guy." Is there hope for a fresh start between the U.S. and Venezuela?
Predict which candidate will win each state and see who reaches 270 electoral votes first.
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
CNN's Tom Foreman explains how the Electoral College works and what would happen if there were a tie.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Nigerians were thrilled when a "son of Africa" won in 2008. The luster has worn off, but has any of it found its way to Romney?
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
If there's one thing that would have struck a chord with Hong Kongers, it was Barack Obama and Mitt Romney using China as a political punching bag.
October 23, 2012 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
China bashing has taken center stage in the U.S. election, where everyone seem bent on casting China as the bad guy.
Christian Amanpour says the chance to transform Afghanistan is slipping away -- and that the election won't make a difference.
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
Obama's "Yes we can" message has long faded away amid plummeting relations between the two countries, writes Masud Alam.
See where the nation stands on one of the tightest races for the White House in years. Follow the numbers as Americans flock to the polls.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
With the months-long campaign finished and the presidential election under way, CNN brings you the best pictures from the campaign trail.
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
For many in Iraq following the U.S. election, the Republican party remains the party of deeply-despised George W. Bush.
October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
After months of talking about each other, Obama and Romney finally go toe-to-toe. But do debates actually affect election outcomes?
Use an interactive map to explore the money game and the strategies of the Obama and Romney campaigns.
October 8, 2012 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Mitt Romney promises to take the U.S. back to a foreign policy based on exerting global influence through military and economic power.
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Brooke Baldwin talks to Erin Burnett about foreign policy being a major component of the 2012 presidential election.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
CNN fact checks Mitt Romney's claim that Barack Obama was 'silent' when anti-regime protests broke out in Iran in 2009.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Yanis Varoufakis says some Athenians fear Europe is waiting until after the U.S. election before cutting Greece loose from the euro.
Get the latest political news, campaign stories, and Washington coverage from CNN's team of political experts.
CNN's Security Clearance experts take a country-by-country look at the differences between the candidates' approach to foreign policy.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
Whoever wins the upcoming U.S. election will find Cuba in a state of flux, says Nobel Prize nominee Yoani Sanchez.
July 29, 2012 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem tell CNN which U.S. presidential candidate is better for their cause.
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
People in London step up to CNN's Open Mic and deliver their messages to the U.S. and its presidential candidates.
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Award-winning novelist Manu Joseph says there must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.
June 1, 2012 -- Updated 0604 GMT (1404 HKT)
Mexicans step up to CNN's Open Mic and offer their messages to the U.S. presidential candidates.
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
The U.S. election race conjures up images of mud flying through the air for many Japanese.
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
With the amount of campaign spending in the U.S. projected to exceed $6 billion, we look at how this compares to other countries.
ADVERTISEMENT