Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
The view from Pakistan: India is a bigger threat than the Taliban, al Qaeda
- 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.