Saturday, August 15, 2009

Two separate surveys reveal public opinion towards US remain negative in Pakistan

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The 2009 "Pew Global Attitudes survey of Pakistan" released on 13th August 2009, outlines fresh challenges for the US Public Diplomacy machinery. The report highlights the fact that growing concerns about Islamic extremism among Pakistanis have not resulted in a positive perception of US. In fact, the report mentions that, "Opinions of America and its people remain extremely negative. Barack Obama's global popularity is not evident in Pakistan, and America's image remains as tarnished in that country as it was in the Bush years. Only 22% of Pakistanis think the U.S. takes their interests into account when making foreign policy decisions, essentially unchanged from 21% since 2007. Fully 64% of the public regards the U.S. as an enemy, while only 9% describe it as a partner." Winning the war of ideas in America's war against terror will be a huge challenge.
The Indian press carried the story widely. The financial daily 'Mint,' quoted the strategic affairs expert C. Uday Bhaskar saying that “One of the abiding features of Pakistan is that in this region the highest incidents of anti-US protests and attacks have been on Pakistan’s streets. The paradox is that the Pakistani establishment is closely aligned with the US, so much so that it has been designated as the only non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) ally in the war against terror.” For US public diplomacy, the challenge will be to counter the view that the war on terror in Pakistani soil amounts to interfering with Pakistan's internal affairs. The war should go on without the US looking meddlesome.
The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, in the meantime, carried a PTI story -- Most Pakistanis see US as bigger threat than India: survey on 14th August, 2009. This story quoted another survey, commissioned by Al Jazeera News Channel and conducted by Gallup Pakistan (and not the one conducted by Pew). This survey "revealed that 59 per cent of respondents believed the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is the US. Eighteen per cent said that the greatest threat came from neighbouring India." So, these are two separate surveys with almost similar findings when it comes to attitudes about US. But, on the threat perception from India this is what the Pew Survey had to say, "And growing worries about extremism notwithstanding, more Pakistanis judge India as a very serious threat to the nation (69%) than regard the Taliban (57%) or al Qaeda (41%) as very serious threats."
The Pew survey reveals that "by a margin of 54% to 4% the U.S. is seen as favoring India over Pakistan." Conspiracy theorists in Pakistan have recently talked about a Indo-US-Israel nexus to dismember the country. For US public diplomacy the second challenge, may be, is to debunk such conspiracy theories. These have the potential to become an ideological rallying point against US, around the banner of Islam, possibly destabilizing the entire region from South Asia, Middle East and Central Asia.
Suggestions/Critiques welcome.


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