My current visit to the US has once again exposed me to the grand spectacle of primaries through which the Republicans and the Democrats, the two major American political parties, nominate their candidates for the presidential election. This process, which involves elections and caucuses by registered members of the two political parties in 50 states, Washington, D.C. and US territories to nominate the respective party presidential candidates, is nothing less than democracy in action.

The primary season this year started at the beginning of February and is likely to last till the middle of June when the last Democratic primary would be held in Washington. D.C. The last round of Republican primaries would be held on 7 June in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. The primaries and caucuses would lead to the National Conventions of the two parties in July. The Republication National Convention would be held from 18-21 July in Cleveland where 1237 delegates out of a total of 2472 delegates would nominate the Republican Party candidate for the US presidential elections to be held on 8 November this year. In the case of Democrats, the decision would be taken by 2383 delegates out of a total of 4764 delegates at the Convention to be held in Philadelphia from 25-27 July, 2016.

On the side of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State under the Obama administration, is the front runner in the race for nomination as a presidential candidate although Senator Bernie Sanders, the rival candidate, has been giving her a tough time. Hillary Clinton has so far secured the support of 91 pledged candidates as against 65 for Bernie Sanders. She has won in three states while Sanders has defeated her in one. Clinton’s victory in South Carolina on 27 February when she bagged 39 delegates as against 14 for Sanders has given her the much needed momentum. If she is able to do as well in the 11 primaries at stake on Tuesday, 1 March, she may be on course to win the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. Hillary Clinton has promised to continue and build upon President Obama’s internal and external policies. Internally, she would continue and improve Obama’s health care program which has been the subject of strong criticism by the Republicans, pay special attention to the women, Afro-Americans, Latinos and other minorities, be sensitive to the sentiments and feelings of the Muslims in the US, and focus on job creation, education and the strengthening of the US economy. Externally, like Obama, she would try to avoid military adventures abroad, prefer multilateralism over unilateral policies as far as possible, counter Russia’s policy of reasserting its power in external affairs, continue the policy of rebalancing of US forces in favor of the Asia-Pacific region to check and contain the expansion of the Chinese power and influence, and maintain the current policy of building up strategic partnership with India as a counter-weight to China. In the light of the prevailing mood in the American political circles and media generally, the possibility of an equitable settlement of the Palestinian issue is remote under Hillary Clinton.

Pakistan would continue to face US pressure on such issues as terrorism, Afghanistan, and relations with China and Iran if Hillary Clinton is elected as President. We should be able to manage successfully the expected US pressures if we adopt the course of moderation and tolerance internally, maintain an unequivocal anti-terrorism policy both in declaratory and operational terms, avoid military adventures like the Kargil operation, and cooperate with the US in the restoration of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan through national reconciliation. Although the US under President Hillary Clinton may express misgivings from time to time about our friendship with China and Iran, we should maintain our policies of developing close relations with them on a mutually beneficial basis while also continuing our policy of developing friendly relations with the US.

The victory of a Republican candidate in the US presidential election later this year would not augur well generally for the Latinos, especially the illegal immigrants, and the Muslims in the US. The Republicans would also go for the dismantling of or radical changes in the Obama health care program. On the economic side, the Republicans would try to lower taxes while reducing public sector expenditure on social welfare programs in the hope that lower taxes would encourage investment and innovation in the country, thus, providing a boost to the economy. Externally, statements of the Republican candidates, especially the front runner Donald Trump, give indications of an inclination towards unilateralism as against multilateralism and tougher policies towards Russia, China and Iran than those pursued by President Obama. The Republican candidates are even less sympathetic towards the Palestinians than the Democrats in general. They also plan to pay increased attention to the further building up of the already formidable US military strength. As for US external economic policies, they believe that countries like China have taken advantage of Washington’s leniency in recording huge trade surpluses against America. Donald Trump in particular is against the trade deal enshrined in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In general, they promise to pursue a more muscular foreign policy with inclination towards unilateralism than the policies pursued by President Obama. The victory of a Republican candidate in the next US presidential election would lead to increased tensions in international relations, especially in relations among major powers. Pakistan would have to take necessary consequential steps in such a scenario to safeguard its vital national interests.

The democratic functioning of the political parties in the US is in a marked contrast with the situation in Pakistan where the two major political parties, that is, PML(N)and PPP, have virtually turned into family fiefdoms with little role of their members at the grass roots level in the choice of their leaders and upper echelons and in their decision making. PTI is just a little better off. Its democratic character is continuously being put to test by the authoritarian proclivities of its leader, Imran Khan. Needless to add that Imran Khan has also been guilty of a short-sighted approach to politics and national affairs as revealed during the ill-conceived long march and “dharna” politics of 2014 when he was obviously exploited by some anti-democratic forces for the sake of their vested interests. MQM, which could have emerged as a viable alternative by broadening its political base, is limited by its parochial appeal, alleged objectionable activities and the virtually dictatorial control exercised by its leader, Altaf Hussain. Looked at closely, other political parties in Pakistan do not fare much better. Perhaps the only exception is Jamaat-e-Islami which is free of the stigma of control by any family and is run through consultations among its members. However, its retrogressive interpretation of Islamic teachings has prevented it from capturing the imagination of the people.

In short, all of these parties need to democratize their functioning and modernize their thinking to be able to provide a viable and progressive leadership which can come to grips with the challenges of modernity confronting Pakistan. Our political leaders, however, must distinguish modernization from blind westernization, that is, the superficial adoption of Western ways while ignoring not only Islamic teachings but also the values which have catapulted the West to the zenith of power and prosperity.