Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The view from Pakistan: India is a bigger threat than the Taliban, al Qaeda

July 30, 2010
A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, from a donkey inside a compound at a makeshift factory in Karachi July 25, 2010.
A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, at a makeshift factory in Karachi.

India may have  a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban.

It’s not just the Pakistani military that believes a bigger, richer India is an existential threat. A majority of ordinary people share that perception as well. That ought to worry Indian policy planners. Of the Pakistanis polled, 23 percent think the Taliban is the greatest threat to their country, and 3 percent think al Qaeda is, despite the rising tide of militant violence in Pakistan’s turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, and also in the heartland cities.

One must approach all surveys with caution, especially so in countries such as India and Pakistan with very large populations.  Pew conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,000 adults in Pakistan between April 13 and 28 of 2010. It says the sample was disproportionately urban, and parts of the troubled areas of the northwest and Baluchistan were not covered. For a country with a population of over 170 million, drawing hard conclusions based on a sample size that small  must come with a mandatory health warning.

Still, there were some positive take-aways.  Despite the deep-seated tensions between these two countries, most Pakistanis want better relations with India. Roughly 72% say it is important for relations with India to improve and about three-quarters support increased trade with India and further talks between the two rivals.

But India won’t talk unless Pakistan acts against the militant groups and their patrons. For a large number of Indians, memories of the 11/26 attacks in Mumbai are still too fresh. India has made almost all dialogue with Pakistan conditional, based on the steps it takes to roll up groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based organization that New Delhi has blamed for a series of attacks in India including the Mumbai assault of 2008. But Pakistan won’t act because it doesn’t consider them to be a threat.  So how do you square such a circle?

The Indians can take some comfort in the fact that Pakistanis also gave the United States an equally poor approval rating. Roughly 59 percent of Pakistanis describe the U.S. as an enemy. And President Barack Obama is very unpopular — only 8% of Pakistanis express confidence that he will do the right thing in world affairs, his lowest rating among 22 nations that were polled about their confidence in the U.S. president.

For all the money that has been lavished on Pakistan, the United States seems to be getting nowhere in winning public support. Indeed,  support for the U.S. involvement in the fight against extremists fell last year. “The lesson unlearned in fifty years is that feeding Pakistan cash will not alter a national psychosis of war and hatred for the U.S.,” Dr. Aseem Shukla wrote in the Washington Post.

Pakistani expert Imtiaz Gul says the more Pakistan becomes the subject of international criticism, the more alienated Pakistanis grow. This past week, the country is back in the international glare following the release of classified military documents reinforcing allegations that it was actively collaborating with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan while accepting a massive amount of U.S. aid to fight the militants.

British Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, saying that it cannot be “allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world.” It was the bluntest warning yet from a British leader, delivered during a visit to India.

Then Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded NATO action against militant havens in Pakistan. This raised questions about whether a new-found partnership with Pakistan would withstand the impact of the disclosures.

Is it any wonder, then, that Pakistan feels encircled? India, a rising economic power, is threatening its western flank by expanding influence in Afghanistan. America and its allies are breathing hard down Pakistan’s neck with the “do-more mantra” that has taken a heavy toll on Pakistan.

Thus, 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. Only one-in-five express a positive view of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, down from 64% just two years ago, Pew said.


PAK needs to understand terrorism is its biggest enemy, and they are kind of addicted to some of it unknowingly to get its agenda across India. I don’t think India would bother PAK if India is not troubled by terror groups from PAK. Other then that India has no interest in having troops in its borders not intention in invade PAK, as it does not make sense. History proves both are brothers and have already split their wealth.

India wants action on Lashkar-e-Taiba wiped off and similar organizations targeting Indian people in there own country. It really makes sense, for them to ask PAK to do that.

I do not think India should engage nor waste time in discussion with PAK until they show their willingness to curb their anti social elements troubling India from PAK.

Posted by Sam D | Report as abusive

I think the survey is not too far off the mark. There could be many reasons for this:

The persistent anti India tirade, fueled by the establishment, has been going on for long with momentary pauses over the years and became specially strident after 26/11. It is bound to have an effect on the population at large.

Al Qaeda and LeT, are seen as fighting for Islam, there is probably a state of denial, regarding their militancy. In part there may also be some acceptance of them furthering a religious cause. Pakistan has for long proclaimed itself as being being the ‘sword arm of Islam’. Much the same aim that these two organisations profess to have. Besides, as far as the LeT is concerned, we know for sure that the establishment actually nurtures and shields it. I am surprised even as much as 35% saw it as a threat. The other terror groups do not get away so lightly because they are seeing as having turned upon their erstwhile benefactors and re hurting Pakistan now.

There has been a systematic attempt for the last twenty years and more to wean away the general public from any pro India thinking. Those generations are now grown individuals and are a product of the diet that they have been fed.

All this is bound to be reflected in an anti India stance. One sees it coming through almost daily on the blog sites too. The facts be blurry but the viciousness of attacks on Indians and the name calling are all pointers of how successful the establishment has been in indoctrinating and harbouring a feeling of enmity. The motto seems to be – case is weak but shout like hell and drown out the other fellow.

No one bothers to ask why if India was such a grave existential threat to Pakistan, (the latest mantra) it hasn’t taken advantage of the existing situation, where Pakistan claims to have thinned forces on the Western border these last few months? The existence of a nuclear armoury doesn’t prevent India from carrying out skirmishes along the LOC & IB and maintaining a low intensity conflict. In fact India could have done so even before nuclear weapons arrived on the scene. These are questions which no one really wants to look at because it will bring out the hollowness of all this talk of threat from India and how it wishes to destroy Pakistan. Denial from the Indian side is rendered meaningless and simply adds fuel to fire.

What makes matters worse is that as international attention has focussed on Pakistan’s role in promoting terror across the globe and as criticism has mounted, Pakistan thinks itself being isolated. This in turn has created insecurity and it helps the psyche to lash out even more – India, Israel and the US seemed made to order targets to vent against.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

There is a reason why every Pakistani is fearful of India. As the previous comenter righfully said, the Paki govt has been feeding a lot of mis-information about India and Hindus (and Christians as well) to it’s general populace. This starts in text books for 1st &2nd graders up to high school. There is a very twisted version of the India-pakistan partition of 1947. This is one thing that the Obama administration is trying to correct by having the Paki govt change the content of the primary school books with more factual information and delet the hate mongering. This proctice started when Zia-ul-Haq was the president (dictator) of Pakistan. As these people have grown up and have constantly been bombarded with anti-India propaganda and fear mongering by the ISI and the Paki army nothing else can be expected from the general population. The education system is mostly madrasa based where Islam and anti-Hindu, anti-Christian and anti-semetic sermons are doled out on a daily basis. Only the elite few can afford to send their children to schools where factual knowledge is taught.
One is tempted to ask why is the Paki govt doing this. The answer lies in the fear of the Pakistani army generals. If there is no animosity with India, then what is the reason for the govt to splurge huge amounts of money on these guys and allow them to control the entire country. It is rumored that every Paki general has a hidden foreign account with millions of dollars. If there is no enimosity with India, then the very existance of the Paki army is in question. So, is the Paki army justified in hijacking the entire country in preserving itself????

Posted by AliG | Report as abusive

I am not sure of your following analysis
“Pew conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,000 adults in Pakistan between April 13 to 28, 2010. It says the sample was disproportionately urban, and parts of the troubled areas of the northwest and Baluchistan were not covered. For a country with a population of over 170 million, drawing hard conclusions based on a sample size that small must come with a mandatory health warning. ”

1) Literacy is higher in urban Pakistan and hence has more access to information from all sources. In spite of that we see more pakistanis feel India as bigger threat than taliban.
If such is the case in urban areas then the situation could be far worse in rural areas. After all Ajmal kasab was from a village and, if media reports are to believe, has wide support in that area.
2) Punjab has disproportionate power in Pakistan. All movers are shakers are from punjab and( to lesser extent) Sindh. Population wise also Sindh and Punjab take the lion’s share. So even if the survey has not covered Baluchistan and FP their findings could still be relevant.

If at all, should there be health warning it should be that these symptoms paint a better picture and the actual disease could be far worse.

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

This is typical fallacy, it assumes that because WE consider the Taliban a threat after invading their country, the Pakistanis should do the same…

Of course India would be viewed as a much bigger threat..
The Taliban are their Muslim brothers and neighbors!!

Half of the forces fighting in Afghanistan against the invading armies and mercinaries are probably Pakistani.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Both Indian and Pakistani Govts, are a threat for their people and the region, They have failed their people after the colonialists left them in turmoil; today they seek the advice of their ex colonial masters, They need to the nations representing their people first,
Rex Minor

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

So both countries should elect a clueless outsider like you to fix their nations? Disgusting.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive


You are a military writer, right!

Did you ever write about India’s insurgency in Baluchistan, NWFP and Sindh and East Pakistan, And every one knows the proof is Bangladesh. Still you people says that Pakistanis should consider you friends……….

For US, we fought wars for US, for what….. US is now single Super Power due to Afghans and Pakistanis. but US people are thankless people and now sending money because they want to grasp the region for Chinese power.

Still Pakistanis should think US or England as our friends……

Now they are telling one story which they want to show to world and world is looking what they want……. Now we are targets which USSR was in Cold War……

But everyone should keep in mind that we are Russians who are just one country, we are a nation in whole earth…. and you can’t capture all of them. If you are thinking to destroy Islam then its again Mistake…… You can’t because Its not in your limits to do that…..

Posted by Izkan | Report as abusive

Indian version of the history of partition is not impertial. In India, media teach the nation that Pakistan is the foster mother of all evil foreces acting in the world.If a sample of 2000 pakistani think that India is a bigger threat to their country than the Taliban, more than 80% Indian dream a victory against Pakistan in cricket, hockey and even in a war.

Posted by Shyam | Report as abusive

The failure of the US/NATO/ISAF military campaign in Afghanistan, especially in Helmand and Kandahar, forces the US generals to shift the blame to their Pakistani counterparts as the Afghan leadership and the US allies want an early political settlement. There is a limit to what the Pakistan Army and the ISI could do and that too according to President Obama’s timeframe. Pakistan has deployed over 140,000 troops in the frontier regions to fight the insurgents while sacrificing over 3,000 soldiers — higher than the US/NATO troops — besides over 6,000 civilian deaths and 21,000 injured. It is officially estimated that the impact of the war on terror on Pakistan’s economy since 2001 has been to the tune of $ 43 billion. As compared to Afghanistan, the US and the international community have offered Pakistan much less than it actually needed to keep its economy going and run a full-fledged unconventional war with great destabilising consequences. The terrorists have retaliated against all kinds of civilian and military targets, including shrines, mosques, market places, schools and hospitals. Successful operations have been conducted in Malakand division, South Waziristan and other agencies. Yet the “do more mantra” goes on and on without finding synergies and compatibilities between the legitimate national security interests of Pakistan and the strategic designs of the US and jointly calibrating immediate, mid-term and long-term goals and objectives of the two sides, even if the civil and military officials of the Obama administration remain sharply divided.

Undoubtedly, the Pakistani security apparatuses have been deeply involved with the former mujahideen and the current insurgents since 1973, and even more after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. The human, military, financial, strategic and other linkages established over three decades cannot be reversed in a short time, even if they pose a most serious existential threat to Pakistan’s own survival as a modern democratic nation-state. By attacking those who can deliver — the Pakistan Army and the ISI — you do not get what you wish for and that too thanklessly. Every army and every secret agency has its own security obsessions and loves to keep its assets and edge over possible adversaries, cover its flanks and expand its depths of reserves and resilience. It is true about the US army, the CIA, the Indian army, RAW — and the Pakistan Army and the ISI are no exception.

What seems to be perhaps disturbing the Pakistani leadership, the army leadership in particular, most is: a) If the US has to start the drawdown next year and, in the meanwhile, engages a section of the Taliban, how appropriate would it be to go for a huge kill in North Waziristan? b) If the US-led allies are to hand over security to the Afghan army, which seems impossible, or most probably leave in 2014, who will fill the void? c) If the US aim is to just eliminate al Qaeda and such elements within the Taliban ranks or jihadi community who are associated with the former or have an international terrorist reach and hand over Afghanistan to whoever, most probably ‘moderated’ Taliban, how could Pakistan afford a resurgent Taliban-type regime that can sway not only the whole Pakhtun belt of Pakistan but also other regions infected with the epidemic of jihad? If the US or President Karzai are to talk to the Taliban, then why should they ask to eliminate the Haqqani group first? If the US leaves without finishing the job in all its ramifications, how and why would Pakistan take the burden of a dangerously destabilising mass of medieval warriors? And above all, what would Pakistan get as a quid pro quo is the moot question. Not forgetting the way the Americans left after forcing the Soviet withdrawal and leaving us at the mercy of a jihadi culture that also infected our rank and file, Pakistan wants to be doubly assured of a long-term partnership with an unreliable partner.

No doubt, our beloved Pakistan has to clean up its own house for its survival, set a clear direction towards a modern, democratic and progressive state at peace within and without. It has to shed the notions of a warrior state that requires strategic depth despite having nuclear weapons, creates the space for private militias and indulges in adventurous pursuits that undermine human security and erode our moderate social fabric. We have to decisively act and in an all-sided manner in our own interest and with our own timing and with the help of the international community to make Pakistan a safe haven for its native people, and not the outlaws who are not loyal to our nation-state but their own megalomania of an internationalist terrorist enterprise. The Americans, international community and the Indians must engage and not denigrate our national institutions that can enforce the writ of the state and not let any territory of Pakistan be used by any terrorist outfit against our people or any other state.

Posted by amir khan | Report as abusive

It is difficult to be impartial when it comes to Pakistan. Somebody said about Balochistan and other areas. But, please remember that Pakistan is nurturing and fuelling terror outfits which attacked the Indian Parliament and the country’s business capital. Still they have the audacity to claim themselves as the affected. Strange indeed. Even for the argument sake if you compare the “attacks” of India and Pakistan, you lose hands down! Sadly it continues to be a rogue nation which does nothing to its betterment and only sowing the hatred seeds in their people’s minds!

Posted by Srinivas | Report as abusive

@Both Indian and Pakistani Govts, are a threat for their people and the region, They have failed their people after the colonialists left them in turmoil; today they seek the advice of their ex colonial masters, They need to the nations representing their people first,
Rex Minor

—-How about Afghanistan? I think it is fair to say that lack of govt in Afghanistan is the mother (or at least aunt) of troubles, inviting superpowers into it. No one has invaded India and Pakistan, but Afghanistan has been. It served as a US-USSR battles field and the disease spread in the region. All know how much Talibans represented the Afghans.

Any word on that. They want or not superpowers are deciding the fate of Afghanistan. Taliban is good to blow up peoples head or Buddha statues. But you will sing songs about them.

Posted by Rajeevk | Report as abusive

This is not the first time a conservative PMhas put his foot in his mouth. There were others. We recently got rid of the one who always referred to his father in his speeches, now we have inadvertently choosen the party with a leader who repeats his host speeches whereever he goes. Never mind like his ex party leader and the now the foreign secretary used to sayk, we will fix this problem as well. No one can avoid the nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, the question who is going to win the moral ground in history by avoiding the first strike. Right now it is Pakistan, whose weak Govt. is still hoping to negotiate with India using Sindhi and Punjabi traditional tricks, while the military is collecting more deadly weapons instead of feeding its people.
Rex Minor

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

The Talibans have got what they always wanted. More and more foreigners to support their daily life. They are going to vaquesh in the valleys of Afghanistan.

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

Self-righteousness! more self-righteousness!! Hasn’t self-righteousness plagued India and Indians since time immemorial. Nuclear India! Richer India! Powerful India! Modern India! Industrialized India! Secular India! Democratic India! That’s all the self-righteousness in the world. But STOP there. Add to this 42% poorest of the world, a constitutionally enforced inequality to schedule castes, close to 200 parliamentary seats held by fascist Hindu extremist parties, gruesome killings of over 100,000 men, women and children in Kashmir and it doesn’t really present a pretty picture. Be honest about it. Blaming everything on Pakistan would get you nowhere.

Posted by Iqbal Khan | Report as abusive

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