The uneasy allies – fighting the so-called war on terror – have witnessed unprecedented setbacks of late — and public opinion reflects just the same.
Following a year of rising tensions between Pakistan and the US, a majority of Pakistanis perceive America unfavourably — offering bleak assessments of the relationship between the two allies.
According to a report published by the Pew Research Centre, roughly three out of four Pakistanis (74%) consider the US an enemy — up from 69% last year and 64% three years ago.
Public opinion in Pakistan remains highly sceptical of US foreign policy, the report states, and US President Barack Obama is held in an exceedingly low regard — out of the 15 nations surveyed in both 2008 and 2012 by the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project, Pakistan emerged as the only country where ratings for Obama were no better than the ratings for George W Bush in his final year in office.
The worsening public perception of the US stems from a number of incidents that have bedevilled the relations between the two countries — drones and unilateral strikes being one of the most contentious ones. A staggering 94% of the people oppose drone strikes and believe that they kill more innocent people, and nearly three-quarters (74%) say they are not necessary to defend Pakistan from extremist organisations. Opposition to these unilateral strikes is so high within the country that only 17% back them, even if they are conducted in conjunction with the government, the report asserts.
The report – which was prepared after conducting face-to-face interviews with 1,206 respondents in the country between March 28 and April 13, 2012 (a sample that covers approximately 82% of the Pakistani population) – revealed that only 13% Pakistanis believe that relations with the US have improved in recent years, down 16% points from 2011. Given the changing public opinions, priorities of Pakistanis are also drastically altering — with only 45% supporting the efforts to improve relations with the US, as opposed to 60% last year.
Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan is one of the highest recipients of aid from Washington, the position of the public about the US hardly changes. Roughly four out of 10 believe that US economic and military aid is actually having a negative impact — while only one-in-10 think the impact is positive.
In international comparison, an overwhelming 80% majority in Pakistan currently have an unfavourable view of the US — with the 21 nations included in the spring 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey, only Jordanians gave a more negative rating to the US (86%). Italy is on top with a 74% approval rating for the US.
Negative views of India
With many experts claiming that almost the entire foreign policy of Pakistan is shaped keeping archrival India in mind, it is not surprising that only 22% of Pakistanis have a favourable view of India.
A majority of the respondents when asked what the biggest threat to their country was, named India (59%) as opposed to the Taliban or al Qaeda. Pakistanis have consistently identified India as the top threat since the question was first asked in 2009, according to the Pew report.
However, notwithstanding these negative sentiments, 62% of Pakistanis believe it is important to improve relations with India — with roughly two-thirds supporting more bilateral trade and further talks to ease tensions between them.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2012.