The recent WikiLeaks dump of war-related documents has brought little new to the debate over Washington’s ongoing military involvement in Afghanistan, but allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence services are aiding the Taliban has brought renewed attention to U.S. concerns over its reliance on Islamabad in battling Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
New polling data released Thursday appeared to confirm that Pakistanis share the U.S.’s uncertainty about their country’s relationship with Washington, while, at the same time, holding unfavorable views of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The poll, conducted in the spring of this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, confirms that the U.S.’s overall image in Pakistan remains negative with only 17 percent of respondents having a favorable view of the U.S., 59 percent describing the U.S. as an enemy and only 11 percent viewing the U.S. as a partner.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban also received low marks from Pakistanis.
Eighteen percent of Pakistanis viewed al-Qaeda favorably, up from nine percent in 2009, and 15 percent view the Taliban favorably, up from 10 percent in 2009.
Despite the small increases in public support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, large numbers of Pakistanis continue to express concern over the possibility of extremist groups taking control of their country.
Fifty-one percent of respondents were worried about an extremist takeover, but that number has dipped from 69 percent when the same poll was conducted in 2009.
The survey’s results appear to suggest that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly negative about the U.S., al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their own government.
"Pakistanis remain in a grim mood about the state of their country. Overwhelming majorities are dissatisfied with national conditions, unhappy with the nation’s economy, and concerned about political corruption and crime," read the report.
"Only one-in-five express a positive view of President Asif Ali Zardari, down from 64 percent just two years ago," it continued.
Very few Pakistanis are happy with the economy, with 78 percent describing the current economic situation as somewhat or very bad. Eighty-four percent were dissatisfied with the current national situation.
Of the extremist organizations respondents were asked about, Lashkar-e-Taiba — the group most active in Kashmir and widely blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks — garnered the most mixed response from the Pakistani public.
Only 35 percent of respondents expressed a negative view of Lashkar-e-Taiba, 25 percent expressed a favorable view and 40 percent had no opinion.
Despite widespread negative view towards extremist groups, Pakistanis were in support of many of the harsh laws and punishments with which the Taliban is often associated.
Eighty-five percent supported segregation of men and women in the workplace; 82 percent were in favor of stoning adulterers; 82 percent were in favor of whipping or cutting off hands as punishment for theft; and 76 percent supported the death penalty for people who leave Islam.
While the Pew poll’s results suggest that few Pakistanis have positive views towards extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, support for U.S. involvement in the fight against extremists has declined over the past year.
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is widely unpopular, with 65 percent of Pakistanis wanting the U.S. and its NATO allies to withdraw as soon as possible. Relatively few respondents were concerned that a U.S. withdrawal could lead to instability in Pakistan if it resulted in a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
"The U.S., on the one hand, very much wants to have Pakistan on its side and wants it to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and sees Pakistan as a very strategic country," said Pakistani political analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy on Wednesday at the Institute for Policy Studies.
"Because of the historical way the U.S. has dealt with Pakistan, there’s a deep resentment within the people and the establishment. Over these years, as the Islamization of Pakistan has become more pronounced, anti-Americanism has grown," he continued.
Only 25 percent of respondents expressed concern that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would be bad for Pakistan, 18 percent thought a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan would be good, 27 percent said it wouldn’t matter, and 30 percent had no opinion.
"The U.S. will not leave Afghanistan. It will move to the north. The skies over south Afghanistan will be filled with drones. They U.S. is not going to let al-Qaeda once again become what it was earlier on. Now, of course, this will result in a deterioration of U.S.-Pakistan relations. There are people in my country who are calling for open war against the United States," said Hoodbhoy.
Interestingly, Pakistanis are widely in favor of improving relations with the U.S., with 64 percent wanting to improve the relationship. However, only 17 percent view the U.S. favorably and eight percent have confidence in President Barack Obama.
While the dissatisfaction with the U.S. involvement in the fight against extremists has grown over the years, the poll found that Pakistanis still consider their longtime historical rival, India, to be the greatest source of worry.
Fifty-three percent of Pakistanis identify India as the greatest threat to Pakistan while only 23 percent picked the Taliban and three percent chose al-Qaeda.
(Inter Press Service)