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Pew Survey Reaffirms Pakistanis Hostility Toward the U.S.

Naseema Noor

WASHINGTON, Jun 22 2011 (IPS) - The Pakistani public’s perceptions of the United States have hit their lowest levels since the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan, according to a new survey released here Tuesday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (GAP).

The survey indicates that only 12 percent of Pakistanis hold a favourable opinion of the U.S.

Another key finding is that, contrary to widespread expectations, the overall unfavourable public opinion of the U.S. barely swayed after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) killed former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden on May 2, suggesting that “the military operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan had little impact on attitudes towards the U.S. or its policies.”

Despite the arch-terrorist’s fall from grace in the eyes of the Pakistani public in recent years, a majority of those surveyed described bin Laden’s death as “a bad thing”, leaving a meagre 14 percent in support of his demise.

Many believe that the targeted assassination of the former-strongman will exert more pressure on the already-strained U.S.-Pakistani relationship; and over half of the surveyed population expects relations between the two countries to deteriorate as a result of the raid.

In fact, just eight percent of those polled professed confidence that U.S. President Barack Obama will “do the right thing” in international affairs, dragging his “ratings [to] as low as former President George W. Bush’s were in 2008”.

The survey revealed that certain components of the U.S.’s counter-terrorism efforts, particularly the use of drones against Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in northwestern Pakistan, remain deeply disliked. Opposition to the unmanned aerial attacks has risen hand-in-hand with knowledge of them, with nearly 97 percent of Pakistanis professing they are “a bad thing” and six in ten claiming that they are “unnecessary”.

Pew’s annual undertaking used over 3,000 face-to-face interviews to carry out two surveys – one before, and the other after bin Laden’s death – which collectively covered roughly 85 percent of the Pakistani population.

The survey’s results come on the heels of increasingly strained relations between Washington and Islamabad, as Pakistani officials have accused the U.S. of violating its sovereignty in going after bin Laden without gaining prior authorisation.

A growing number of U.S. lawmakers, in turn, have accused Pakistan of being an unreliable ally and harbouring terrorists.

In the past couple of weeks, accusations have mounted in response to reports that Pakistan ordered U.S. military and intelligence officials to leave the country and arrested individuals alleged to have supplied the CIA with intelligence on bin Laden’s compound.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican who currently leads the House Intelligence Committee, stated recently that he had reason to believe that officials of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) protected bin Laden, but offered no substantive evidence for this claim.

Rogers also warned that the Obama administration and Congress might impose restrictions on Pakistan’s annual two billion dollar aid package. Other officials have called for cutting off aid altogether until Islamabad agrees to fully cooperate with the U.S. in its fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The discovery that bomb-making factories in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province were reportedly evacuated after U.S. intelligence officials disclosed their locations to Pakistani authorities further fuelled congressmen’s recriminations.

“It seems to me that to restore our confidence in our relationship with Pakistan, they have to make certain steps… and we have to set up some benchmarks as to what we expect,” John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said Sunday.

At the same time, senior officials in the U.S. military have reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to Islamabad-Washington cooperation. Addressing a news conference on Jun. 16, the departing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that, despite the “ebbs and flows” in relations, “We need each other, and we need each other more than just in the context of Afghanistan.”

But despite this official recognition of mutual reliance, the Pew survey found that nearly seven in ten Pakistanis view the U.S. as “more of an enemy than a partner to Pakistan”.

Opinions of the U.S. appear to mirror Pakistani perceptions of India, the survey noted. India’s unfavourable ratings among the public have ballooned to 75 percent over the past five years, with respondents opining that Islamabad’s historic rival is a bigger threat than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

Hostility toward allies and enemies overseas has undoubtedly fed into the public’s criticism of its own government’s failings – according to the survey a vast majority of Pakistanis are hugely frustrated by rising prices, crime, a dearth of jobs, and terrorism. Only 13 percent of respondents expressed optimism that Pakistan’s economic situation will improve in the next year.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s popularity has plummeted to 11 percent, while favourable ratings of other politicians like Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gailani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif remain higher but have declined in the past year as well.

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