US Elections 2012: Pakistani-Americans Look within
By Waris Husain
While the voting pattern of Pakistani-Americans remains largely unstudied, one can discover a complex array of political beliefs held amongst this group. The lack of uniformity is partly due to the varying socio-economic status of Pakistani-Americans but also relates to the absence of institutions that are formally engaged in political campaigns. However, for the 2012 presidential race, it seems that Pakistani-Americans are poised to replay the 2008 election, by supporting Barack Obama over his stance on domestic issues.
The results of a recent BBC poll indicate that while there has been overwhelming support for Obama’s re-election worldwide, some Pakistanis favor Romney, probably over the president’s unpopular drone policy and the Abbottabad raid to kill Osama bin Laden. This seems to have carried over in some way to the Pakistani-American community. Raakin Iqbal, a Pakistani-American entrepreneur, on his blog wrote that he interfaced with a few Pakistani-Americans who were supporting Romney because they were against Obama’s drone wars.
However, this does not seem to be an overwhelming trend, considering both Romney and Obama have advocated the continued use of drones. In fact, unlike most elections, the two candidates have little disagreement over their militaristic intentions concerning Pakistan.
The Republican support among certain Pakistanis can be contextualized further. In the past, the majority of Pakistani-Americans had supported the Republican Party partly because they felt the Republicans favored Pakistan and the Democrats sided with India. This seemed true to some extent since Republican presidents have favored a “blank check” approach with Pakistan’s military dictators as opposed to the Democrats who took a harder stance in comparison.
This pattern worked in favor of the Republican party until the “war on terror” began and as civil liberties of Pakistani-Americans were constricted, so did their support for the Republican party. These events led to an overwhelming participation in the 2008 elections by Pakistanis in support of Barack Obama . Pakistani-American groups even helped raise funds for Obama in the Washington Metro area, as well as in other urban hubs around the country.
The enthusiasm of the Pakistani-American community was surprising considering the debate between the 2008 election candidates – Obama and John McCain – during which McCain advocated for a softer approach towards Pakistan’s newly-elected civilian government, as opposed to Obama who had categorically asserted that his administration could take unilateral military action in Pakistani territory.
Despite his militaristic rhetoric with respect to Pakistan, Obama has enjoyed overwhelming support from Pakistani-Americans, which validates the thesis by Pakistani American academic and intellectual Adil Najam.
Najam explained in his book “Portrait of a Giving Community” that the diaspora community was less concerned about what a candidate would do about Pakistan and more concerned about what he or she would do on the domestic front.
The increased focus on domestic issues is perhaps best exemplified through anecdotes from members of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI)’s American chapter, some of whom are mulling voting for Obama despite Imran Khan’s absolute rejection of his drone program.
Najam’s thesis also helps explain why Pakistanis supported the Republican Party in the past in the context of the economic class of immigrants who settled in the US prior to 1991 . America’s immigration policy at the time only allowed professionals to immigrate. Unlike subsequent blue collar immigrants who were granted green cards, these professionals became part of the American upper class. Consequently, the Republican Party’s pro-rich policy appealed to a large percentage of them.
However, this pattern has partially changed due to a greater diversification of the economic status among Pakistani-American immigrants. Therefore, when one considers that the blue collar immigrants who moved to the US after 1991 are getting closer to retirement age, they are increasingly concerned about being provided government-subsidized healthcare.
It is evident to these voters that Romney has been voicing opposition to Obama’s policy of providing government assistance to the poor, sick, and elderly citizens and that may cost him the support of this section of older Pakistani Americans.
Even the Pakistani professional community has embraced Obama, despite the negative effect it may have on their tax rates, since Obama would require the rich to pay for increased governmental programs.
Pakistani-American physician Dr Mohammad Taqi says most of his Pakistani-American colleagues would be voting for Obama and some have even contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign.
However, on an institutional level, Dr Taqi said that the Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America, of which he is a member, was a non-profit organization, which means it could not legally contribute to any campaign.
Moreover, mosques and other professional organizations that have a large membership scope are all classified as non-profit organizations and so there has been an absence of formal organizations that raise and contribute money on behalf of Pakistani-Americans for election campaigns.
Regardless, on an individual level, members of mosques and professional organizations seem to be in favor of Obama.
Iqbal, the entrepreneur who is also a youth organizer for the Noor Islamic Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, said most people at the center support Obama. Though there is little data to indicate that these Pakistanis are contributing to Obama’s campaign financially, it seems that they would show their support at the ballot box.
Much of this support for the Democratic Party can be traced back to a more recent radical shift within the Republican Party. Since 2008, the rise of the Tea Party and other extreme right-wing groups has forced the Republicans to shift far to the right. This has caused many moderate Republicans, like Olympia Snowe, to refuse running for re-election on behalf of an increasingly extremist party platform.
The flight of old-guard Republicans, some of Pakistani descent, is not surprising when one looks to the way in which the party has catered to extremists. Some among the extremist elements in the party even advocate for xenophobic policies that are discriminatory to Latinos as well as Muslim-Americans.
This type of hateful rhetoric from the Republican Party is especially repulsive and frightening for the Pakistani-American youth who have grown up in the post-9/11 era where many of them have been subjected to increasing forms of discrimination.
Young individuals genuinely fear a Republican presidency based on this recent history.
Afghan-American journalist Josh Sharyar says young Pakistani-Americans are characteristically geared towards supporting Obama because most are “university-educated, young and a minority”, making them logical supporters of the Democratic Party.
The support for Obama from young and old Pakistani-Americans alike has not been orchestrated by specialized institutions but has occurred on an individual level.
Moreover, the flight of support from Pakistani-Americans for the Republican Party has strong links to the increased radicalism within the party as well as to the damage done by the policies taken up by the Bush administration and the “war on terror”.
These factors come coupled with increased socio-economic diversity of Pakistani-Americans. And this is why it seems that many in the Pakistani-American community will vote for Obama – to censure the Republicans, who along with harboring members with extremist views also pose a threat to government assistance to the poor and the elderly.
( The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues. – Courtesy Dawn)
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