The South Asia Channel

Parsing the Pakistan polling

Yesterday Pew released a poll of Pakistanis conducted between mid-May and mid-June that has good news and bad news for the United States. The good news: The number of Pakistanis who have an unfavorable opinion of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden has jumped. Support for suicide bombings is still very low:   ...

Yesterday Pew released a poll of Pakistanis conducted between mid-May and mid-June that has good news and bad news for the United States.

The good news: The number of Pakistanis who have an unfavorable opinion of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden has jumped. Support for suicide bombings is still very low:

 

Yesterday Pew released a poll of Pakistanis conducted between mid-May and mid-June that has good news and bad news for the United States.

The good news: The number of Pakistanis who have an unfavorable opinion of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden has jumped. Support for suicide bombings is still very low:

 

2008

2009

Al Qaeda

34%

61%

Taliban

33%

70%

Osama bin Laden*

28%

47%

Suicide bombings**

91%

90%

*The question asked, how much confidence do you have in bin Laden to do the right thing in world affairs?

**Percentage of respondents who believe suicide bombings are rarely or never justifiable.

The biggest change is how much support the Taliban has lost over the last year: More than two thirds of Pakistanis now view the Taliban unfavorably. Given the militant violence that has plagued the country and spiked over the past year — suicide bombings were at their highest levels ever in 2008 — this is unsurprising, but encouraging nonetheless. Pakistanis are increasingly seeing the Taliban’s vision of a "7th century utopia here on earth," as Peter Bergen put it, as something, well, pretty awful. Only 1 percent of Pakistanis have a "very favorable" opinion of the Taliban, and only six percent think the Taliban is no threat at all to the country.

On those drone strikes, like the one that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud last week: Only about a third of Pakistanis have heard of them, but 95 percent of those people think they are bad or very bad.

Interestingly, though, the survey, which is admittedly "disproportionately urban," also found that nearly half of Pakistanis support the U.S. conducting missile strikes against leaders of militant groups to combat extremism (though this question is buried at the end of the top line and not mentioned in Pew’s analysis section of the report).

What’s going on here? It seems that the Pakistani people (at least, the city-dwellers — there is some polling that indicates people in the FATA view things differently) recognize that while the strikes kill too many civilians and broadly oppose them in principle, in practice they are all we’ve got to go after militant leaders in the unforgiving frontier regions of Pakistan. This polling was conducted before the strike that allegedly took out Mehsud; I wonder if the support figures would be higher if it were carried out now.

The bad news: They hate us. Okay, "hate" is too strong a word. But only 16 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States. This is in keeping with trends over the last 7 years: the most love we’ve ever gotten from the Pakistani populace is a 27 percent favorability rating, in the spring of 2006 after the U.S. and U.S. donors pledged some $510 million in aid and in-kind military assistance to help with reconstruction and relief efforts for the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir that killed 74,000 Pakistanis.

Another somewhat dispiriting figure is that, according to this survey, about half of Pakistanis view India as the greatest threat to Pakistan, while only a third see the Taliban as such. A big oversight, in my opinion, is that the United States wasn’t an answer choice in that question —  a poll by Gallup and Al Jazeera done in late July found that 59 percent of Pakistanis think the U.S. is the biggest threat, followed by 18 percent for India and 11 percent for the Taliban.

There are lots of other good nuggets of information in Pew’s polling; I encourage everyone to comb through it carefully and use it to better understand the people who live at the "central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism."

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