That the United States is unpopular in Pakistan is common knowledge. But just how unpopular is surprising. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 73 per cent of Pakistanis hold an unfavourable opinion of the U.S., 68 per cent have little or no confidence in President Obama, and 69 per cent see the U.S. as more of an enemy than as a partner. Those are not good numbers for a country the Americans profess to need as a friend.
And they are not the only discouraging numbers. Adding insult to injury, 63 per cent of Pakistanis disapproved of the killing of Osama bin Laden and 55 per cent think it’s a bad thing he is dead. Furthermore, support for their own government’s military campaign against extremist groups is dropping, from 53 to 37 per cent over the past three years. Their military nonetheless remains popular with 79 per cent saying it has a good influence on the country. (The Americans may have a somewhat less generous view.)
All of this is not to suggest Pakistanis are soft on extremists. Only 12 per cent have a favourable opinion of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, although that rises to 27 per cent for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Kashmir-based group that has carried out numerous attacks against India. Eighty-five per cent believe suicide bombings and other violent acts against civilians in defense of Islam are never justified. This has risen from 38 per cent in 2002.
So, the U.S. distrusts the Pakistani army, and the Pakistani people distrust the U.S.—quite a conundrum. Yet if the United States is to influence lasting change in the region, it must come to terms with Pakistan, a nation central to the region’s future and, of course, a nuclear power. The above numbers suggest that will be quite a challenge.