As Pakistanis watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama on television on Tuesday night, many said it was after a long time that some good news had come from the US.
“I am hopeful of some change,” said Muhammad Ilyas, who said people in Pakisan expect Obama to be more “mindful of problems faced by the Muslim world.”
There was equal optimism over the swearing in of Joseph Biden as vice-president. “He has been able to divert some military aid to the social sector,” said Sami Ahmad, a newspaper columnist. Ahmad said many Pakistanis hoped that aid from the US would be less focused on the military, and more on areas like health and education.
Muhammad Imtiaz, a resident of the troubled Swat Valley, said he expected that with the arrival of Obama to the White House, the drone attacks in his area and the tribal areas of the country “will come to an end.”
While this may be an over-optimistic assumption, there is a general consensus among Pakistanis that “anyone will be better than President Bush.”
The right wing Jamaat-e-Islami party on Monday held a “farewell protest” for Bush in which they threw shoes at his portrait.
For Pakistanis, Obama being African-American is not as much an issue as his middle name being Hussain. This has been over-played by the local media, as has the fact that his mother worked in Pakistan several years ago.
Local newspapers reported that some shops have been renamed from Osama to Obama in parts of the country. “He is one of us,” said a rickshaw driver, adding, “He is black.” Senior TV artiste Naeem Tahir — whose son Farhan, an American actor, has been invited to the Obama inauguration — said the Obama’s arrival in the White House raises many hopes among the people of the Third World.
As for Vice President Joe Biden, people like Mustafa Khan, who works as an airline executive, praised the foresight of Pakistan President Zardari for awarding him a civilian honour weeks before he came into office. Khan said, “These things count and it seems Pakistan has started on the right foot.”