Pakistan poll shows support for offensive, but U.S. blamed

November 4, 2009

A narrow majority of Pakistanis support the army’s offensive in South Waziristan, but many still believe Pakistan is fighting “America’s war”, according to a Gilani Research Foundation poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan.

In the poll, conducted in the last week of October, 51 percent supported the offensive, 13 percent opposed it and 36 percent were unsure. A majority held the United States and Pakistan’s own government –rather than the Taliban – responsible for the situation which required the offensive in the first place.

And in a country where many believe the government and army are being pushed to follow America’s bidding, in part to bolster the U.S. position in Afghanistan, 39 percent of respondents said the military was fighting ”America’s war”, while 37 percent said it was fighting Pakistan’s own war.

The researchers said 36 percent of respondents were hopeful the operation would bring peace, 37 percent believed it would worsen the situation and 27 percent were unsure.

Pakistani ambivalence about tackling Islamist militants has undermined efforts to rally the country against them, despite a spate of gun and bomb attacks in the country’s cities, though political analysts say the urban violence has now convinced many that action is necessary.

Many blame that ambivalence on what they see as a Pakistani military strategy of attacking only those militants who threaten Pakistan itself, while leaving alone other groups like the Afghan Taliban and Kashmir-oriented groups which can be used as “strategic assets” against Indian influence in the region.

But even in terms of Pakistan’s approach to the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) - a major target of the South Waziristan operation – some question whether the army is doing the right thing in launching military offensives in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

For an alternative view to the prevailing support for the South Waziristan offensive, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad argues in Le Monde diplomatique that Pakistan is creating its own enemy through ill-considered operations that alienate local people and drive more into the arms of the Taliban. 

In a country where conspiracy theories abound, many are also quick to blame India or the United States for the violence rather than the Taliban.

Do read this exchange recounted by Londonstani, a blogger at Abu Muqawama, about last week’s attack on a market in Peshawar which killed more than 100 people, many of them women and children.

  “Person 1: ‘The Taliban couldn’t have blown up the market in Peshawar because a Muslim wouldn’t do that.’
  “Person 2: ‘No, the Americans did it. But you know, the market that got blown up catered for women. And you know it’s haram for women to go out of  the house.’
  ”Person 1: ‘Oh…..yeah’”.

And if the bomb and gun attacks are turning people against the Pakistani Taliban, that does not mean they are likely to rally behind their government. According to this poll, 73 percent of respondents believe that the terrorism has worsened dramatically in Pakistan. But commenting on the government’s response, 44 percent said they believe they had completely failed while 44 percent said they had been successful to some extent.

(Photos: soldiers in Lahore; refugees from earlier Swat offensive)

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