Posted by: ourvoicestogether | October 19, 2007

Pakistan: Public Opinion & War on Terror

Tragically over 130 people were killed and 450 were injured yesterday by a suicide bomb attack yesterday in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan is a major ally in the “War on Terror” yet both al Qaeda and the Taliban have regrouped in Pakistan in recent months. A new nationwide survey of Pakistan by Terror Free Tomorrow gives us some clues to the overall public opinion environment that continues to feed this increasingly lethal situation in Pakistan.

Public Opinion & War on Terror

Terror Free Tomorrow found:

“universal disdain for the U.S. led war on terror. When Pakistanis were asked, unprompted, what they think is the real purpose of the U.S.-led war on terror, a mere 4% volunteered any kind of positive motivation. Remaining responses were all decidedly negative, with ‘breaking Muslim countries, killing Muslims, ending Islam, etc’ among the most common, volunteered responses. …

…Support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and other radical groups does not mean, however, that equal percentages of Pakistanis support suicide bombings. In fact, 18% of Pakistanis think such attacks are often or sometimes justified, while three-quarters believe that they are never or rarely justified.

While support for the US military action and the US war on terror is quite low, overall favorable and unfavorable opinions of the United States itself have remained relatively steady. 19% of Pakistanis now have a favorable opinion of the U.S. and 72% are unfavorable. …

…Yet, despite pervasive negative feelings toward the United States, a majority of Pakistanis said their opinion of the US would improve if American educational, medical, disaster, business investment, and the number of visas for Pakistanis to work in the US increased.”

A full statement (in PDF) on Terror Free Tomorrow’s survey methods, questions and background is available here.

–Marianne

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Responses

  1. Terror Free Tomorrow’s survey of Pakistani public opinion is perhaps an accurate assessment and estimate of how the people of Pakistan feel toward the war on terrorism and their attitude towards the role played by the United States in the entire activity.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the talbanization of the country that started back in the late 70’s during the time of the late Zia-ul-Haq, a drastic transformation in the very texture of the society has been felt over the past 10 to 15 years. Patience, tolerance and perseverance have gone missing in action and have been replaced by undue emotionalism, aggression and a violent set of values.

    Public opinion has been molded by fundamentalist propaganda that starts from the mosque/madarassah level and goes up to the state run television. With 75% of the population living in rural areas, these absolutely downtrodden folks who can only listen to and believe the mullah in the mosque, and having no access whatsoever to other channels of media and information, one is not surprised about the societal negativity and patronage of ‘rough’ methods.

    Pakistan is not ready for the 21st century – trust me this is not an exaggerated statement! More than anything else, it is like a glorified tribal society where the rule of might is right is abundantly applied in everyday life. It is a society where slavery is still rampantly existent.

    More than anything else, it is a society of haves and have nots. Whereas the haves live with pomp and show, the have nots struggle to make ends meet. The consequence is that all these terrorists/talibans that we have come to dread are born out of that chaotic quagmire. Parents in villages who are not able to support their children hand them over to the mosques imams at an early age. The imams brainwash the young ones in madrassahs that are affiliated with the mosques. Most of these madrassahs in Pakistan are funded by the Arabs/Saudi Arabian Wahabis. What is taught in madrassahs is absolute hatred and intolerance toward those who are non-Wahabis. Simply put, anyone who doesn’t comply with the rules of the Wahabis does not deserve to live. Such is the rigid environment in which these children who eventually grow up to be terrorists/talibans are exposed to.

    What has the Pakistan government done to stop all this ‘creative’ exercise? The answer is ‘Nothing’! In fact, if anything else, the state has been a facilitator and a beneficiary. Facilitator in a way that no effort was ever made to check or stop the growth of these madrassahs. And beneficiary, because of the slavish attitude toward the Saudis. The Saudis give tons of aid to Pakistan and hence influence and control pretty much everything and anything that has to do with faith, so much so that at one time the government of Pakistan was considering to carry out a constitutional amendment branding Shiites who form about 7% of the population as non-Muslims.

    Moreover, the talbanization of the society does not stop at the madrassah level. The penetration of Wahabi beliefs has been extremely effective, enough to make their way into the Pakistani military bureaucracy and sensitive institutions such as the nuclear research paraphernalia. Back in the 80s and the 90s, folks turning into tablighis (preachers of Wahabism) within the governmental setup were a common phenomenon.

    The problem is that religion and politics have been blended together in Pakistan’s case and it’s ended up in a rotten mixture. Religion is involved in relations with India, nuclearization, and every other possible facet of life, thanks to the Arabs. Ironically, I may hasten to add, the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a truly moderate individual who had little or possibly nothing to do with religion. It is correct that he wanted a homeland for the Muslims of India, yet, he had no intention or plan to ever turn the country into an Islamic theocracy.

    What needs to be realized here is that although President Musharraf has been providing strong assurances to the US that he’s seriously fighting the fundamentalists, his hands may be tied by the fact that within the military mechanism that he heads, the support to implement his plans into actions may be absent/non-existent. There are, without any doubt, elements in the Pakistani government, who are sympathetic towards the Wahabi fundamentalists/talibans. The resistance to change/moderation is overwhelming and Musharraf’s promises are perhaps nothing but high sounding non-sense.

    Also, strangely with respect to the suicide bombing at Benazir Bhutto’s arrival, Musharraf a few days ago had suggested that Ms. Bhutto should delay her homecoming since he feared that the fundamentalists might attack her. One is perplexed to understand as to how Musharraf got to know that the fundamentalists were planning an attack – did someone in the military intelligence provide him with a hint or two? Why would Musharraf make such a statement is beyond one’s understanding.

    All said and done, it is extremely unlikely that the Pakistani public opinion may ever take a turn for the better in the near future. It is indeed true that the US can play a vital role in changing the perspective of the man on the street by offering help and assistance in educating the masses, increased people-to-people contact independent of the Pakistani state system, or of course, exposure to the ideals and concepts of freedom and tolerance that our great country is based on. Not too long ago, back in the 90s, the US embassy in Islamabad and the consulates throughout Pakistan used to wield some kind of influence in order enlighten the public about issues related to American foreign policy and its objectives. In addition, US diplomats were a part and parcel of the cultural activities in many areas. In essence, an effort needs to be made to get closer to the hearts and minds of the present day, disoriented, misdirected and ill-informed Pakistanis.


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