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?