Pakistan’s Enemy No.1

August 13, 2009

Who is Pakistan’s biggest threat? Not the Taliban, not even India, but the United States, according to an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis surveyed in a poll just out.

On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of Pakistan’s creation, the Gallup Pakistan poll offers a window into the mind of a troubled, victimised nation. And it surely must make for some equally uncomfortable reading in the United States, led at this time by a president who has sought to reach out to the Muslim world and distance himself from the foreign policy adventurism of his predecessor.

Here is the poll summary and here the full poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan, an affiliate of Gallup International. The poll was commissioned by Al Jazeera and here are some highlights:

Fifty-nine percent of Pakistanis believe the United States poses the greatest threat to the nation, despite the billions of dollars of military and development aid. (There is, of course, a separate debate on about how heavily the previous administration skewed the aid towards the military instead of schools and hospitals as highlighted in a report by the influential Center for American Progress but that at some other point.)

About 18 percent of those polled said they felt most threatened by India. The number is not as high as you would ordinarily expect, given that the Pakistani establishment has long portrayed the neighbour as the existential threat. Is there an opportunity here? Will the peacemakers on the two sides seize on this to build greater people-to-people contacts?

Anyway to get back to the poll, only 11 percent thought that the Taliban were the greatest threat, despite all the bombings and suicide attacks they have carried out across the country. To a separate question, some 43 percent supported dialogue with the Taliban.

Is there a huge disconnect then? While America says the next major attack is likely to originate from the Taliban – al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan’s northwest, quite a substantial number of Pakistanis do not think them to be a threat, and would like talks to resolve the problem.

“Drone anger” or public fury over U.S. Predator strikes inside Pakistan seems to be especially responsible for America’s unpopularity. A massive 67 percent of those polled said they opposed U.S. military operations on Pakistani soil.

Can America then really fight this war, with the Pakistani people so dead against it? For the United States to become even more hated than India, it takes quite a doing, the Gulf-based The Nation wrote.

“If it is less popular in Pakistan than India is, it must indeed be doing something wrong. Billions of dollars in aid and untold numbers of visits by USofficials have failed to win Pakistan’s full support for efforts to defeat the Taliban,” the paper said.

This poll was conducted on July 26-27 in all four provinces of the country. Which means it was done before the reported death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike. That has been widely welcomed in Pakistan and some people think it may blunt some of the hostility to U.S. drone attacks as The Times notes.

But it is hard to see the numbers drop dramatically, especially given that the Pakistani Taliban is not about to be finished despite the loss of its powerful leader.

So where do we go from here?  Rob Asghar, a Pakistan-American writing in the Huffington Post, kicks the ball back at Pakistanis, saying ultimately nobody can help them save themselves. Pakistan must stop thinking of itself as the victim, blaming first India, and now the United States for all its ills.

“As a Pakistani-American, let me offer my own poll response: The biggest threat posed to Pakistan comes not from the U.S. Not from the Taliban. And not from India.”

“No, the biggest threat to Pakistan comes from Pakistanis. The threat comes from the actions of some, and the inaction of others.”

[File photo of a protest in Lahore and U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus and Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani]

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