As the Obama administration addresses the Afghan war in closed-door security meetings starting today, neighboring Pakistan will undoubtedly play a role in any revised security strategy. Vice President Joe Biden is advocating an increase of drone attacks in Pakistan as an alternative to sending more troops to Afghanistan. However, a recent survey of Pakistani public opinion conducted by the PEW Global Attitudes Project indicated that this could be a very poor move on the part of an administration seeking to improve relations with the Muslim world.
Significantly, the survey results indicate that Pakistanis overwhelmingly oppose violent acts of terrorism. Less than ten percent of those polled expressed a favorable opinion of al Qaeda and the Taliban, while 87 percent felt that suicide bombing is never justified in order to defend Islam against its enemies.
Nevertheless, attitudes toward the United States remain largely negative, approval ratings have hovering below 20 percent for the past three years. According to the survey a majority of Pakistanis considered the U.S. an enemy, while only about one-in-ten considered it a partner.
Survey trends over the past decade indicate that public attitudes toward the United States are closely linked to U.S. foreign policy. For example, 2006 saw the highest approval rating in the past ten years (27 percent) which the report attributes to the significant amount of U.S. aid provided after the October 5 2005 earthquake near Islamabad.
Since then approval has dropped to 16 percent, with many Pakistanis objecting to the methods employed by the U.S. in its “war on terror.” Particularly at issue is the policy of using drone aircraft to drop missiles in the country’s North Western Frontier Provence (NWFP). According to the PEW survey, over 90 percent of Pakistanis who were aware of the strikes viewed them negatively, and a majority (58 percent) felt they were unneccessary. The prevailing reasoning behind these attitudes is the opinion, shared by 93 percent of Pakistanis surveyed, that the drones “kill too many innocent people.”
Unless the U.S. can find a way to effectively shift public opinion in Pakistan, relying more heavily on unmanned drones could be a step in the wrong direction. As Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation pointed out:
“the inevitable civilian casualties [of drone attacks] are a superb recruiting tool for the Pakistani Taliban. Indeed, the drone strikes have pushed militants deeper into Pakistan and given them an excuse to strike the heartland of the country, further destabilizing the already rickety government in Islamabad.”
In its fight against the global terrorist threat, the U.S. should pay more attention to winning the hearts and minds in the Muslim world. Unless the administration can find a way to work along side the Pakistani people to achieve the shared goal of eradicating terrorism, escalating tensions will only continue to fuel the problem.
Posted by Mary Tharin