Pakistan's relationship with the U.S. — and foreign policy in general — has been less of a focus in the election than domestic issues, such as corruption, pervasive energy shortages and stuttering economic growth.
Lodhi believes this is because the U.S. has said it is largely pulling out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and is seeking a peace settlement with the Taliban — a move long advocated by the Pakistani government and supported by the main contenders in the election.
"That has helped to take the edge off negative sentiment in Pakistan which we saw in the last couple of years against the United States," Lodhi said.
One issue that continues to create tension between the two countries is the U.S. drone program targeting Islamic militants in Pakistan's rugged tribal region near the Afghan border.
The attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. They are seen as violating the country's sovereignty, and many people believe they kill mostly civilians — an allegation denied by the U.S.
Pakistan's civilian and military leaders have contributed to these perceptions by criticizing the strikes in public in the past, while supporting them in secret. This support has declined over time as the relationship between the two countries has worsened.
The number of strikes has dropped from a peak of more than 120 in 2010 to close to a dozen so far this year, but it's unclear how much this trend has been driven by U.S. decisions about targeting versus the political sensitivity of carrying out strikes.
Khan, the former cricketer, has sharply criticized U.S. drone attacks and has even pledged to shoot down the unmanned aircraft if he came to power.
Sharif has also been a vocal opponent of the strikes in the past, although he hasn't made them as much of a focal point of his campaign as Khan has.
Nevertheless, Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes Sharif would work with the army to renegotiate the use of drones in Pakistan if he took power.
"In the end, I think probably some accord will be reached in which the use of drones will probably be curtailed from where they have been over the past couple of years," Markey said during a recent call with media. "But they will continue, particularly against high-value targets when they are found."
However, Lodhi, the former ambassador, has doubts Sharif would pick a high-profile fight with the U.S. over drones since the number of strikes has decreased so much.
"The centrality of drones may not be what it was in the past," Lodhi said. "Why would you want to whip up something that is going down anyway?"
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.
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