THE BLOG
10/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pakistanis Find No Use In Following US Elections

Given that Pakistan is both receiving aid from and having a public spat with the United States, it would be logical to conclude that Pakistanis are feverishly following the US elections.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is running so high that, as a television journalist said, the vast majority of Pakistanis think "they will get screwed whoever comes into power, so what's the point?"

With the war on terrorism encroaching into the heartland from the boarder, Pakistanis are distracted from the world stage; even the US party conventions failed to grip local media, and observers think that the candidate debates will be similarly ignored.

But the vast failure of US policy in the past five years has been that it has not sufficiently engaged the Pakistani public and convinced it that it has a stake in America's war on terror. This means even positive policies get short shrift.

Consider, for example, United States aid to Pakistan. After skyrocketing food prices devastated Pakistani consumers, the United States committed to provide 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Pakistan. This wheat aid was barely covered in Pakistani English newspapers, and even less in Urdu language and regional publications.

Their current detachment aside, on the street most Pakistanis favor the Democratic ticket. The reasons are a mixture of emotional and rational: Obama is not a Republican, he has a Muslim middle name, and unlike John McCain he has not joked about bombing neighbor Iran.

The Obama-Biden ticket has won over the educated elite because of a perception that Joseph Biden is one of the few senators who seems to show an understanding of Pakistani politics. The Senator has sponsored legislation that will give Pakistan $1.5 billion in annual non-military aid for five years to build schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. This is a welcome change from the previous emphasis on military-only aid.

Obama's choice of Biden has shown educated Pakistanis that in a Democratic administration there will at least be some understanding of the ground realities. But a vast majority of the country is unfamiliar and unaware of these initiatives, and is instead feeding on a daily diet of crises.

And then there is the mocking. An editorial in Dawn, Pakistan's largest English daily, calculates that Biden's package gives Pakistan $9 a citizen, and then compares it to America's $1 billion aid package to Georgia. They concluded that, by number alone, one Georgian is worth roughly 25 Pakistanis.

This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.