Pakistanis Believe US Greater Threat than al Qaeda

Monisha Bansal | Staff Writer | Monday, January 07, 2008

Pakistanis Believe US Greater Threat than al Qaeda

Washington ( - Pakistanis think the U.S. military presence in Asia and Afghanistan is a far greater threat to Pakistan than the terrorist group al Qaeda, according to a new survey.

The study showed that 72 percent of Pakistanis view the U.S. military presence in Asia as a "critical threat" to the "vital interests of Pakistan" with an additional 12 percent seeing it as an "important but not critical threat," for a total of 84 percent.

For the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the numbers were 68 percent and 15 percent, for a total of 83 percent of Pakistanis who view the U.S. in that situation as a possible vital threat to Pakistan's interests.

Only 62 percent (41 "critical" and 21 "important") said al Qaeda was a possible threat to Pakistan's interests.

The survey of 907 Pakistani urban adults was conducted Sept. 12-18 by the United States Institute of Peace and - this was before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency.

The survey, released Monday, showed that most Pakistanis have a negative view of radical Islam but also view the United States poorly. In addition to their views on the U.S. military as a threat, for example, the people surveyed oppose U.S. forces fighting al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Sixty percent of respondents said they thought Islamist militants and al Qaeda posed a threat to Pakistan. Yet four out of five would not support giving U.S. forces permission to enter Pakistan to fight al Qaeda.

In addition, about two-thirds (64 percent) do not trust the United States to "act responsibly in the world." Only 27 percent feel that cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S. has benefited Pakistan. And 86 percent say it is a U.S. goal to weaken and divide the Islamic world.

The report, "Pakistani Public Opinion on Democracy, Islamist Militancy, and Relations with the U.S." went on to reveal that Pakistanis want a greater role for democracy and Islam in government.

About 60 percent want a larger role for Shari'a - or Islamic law. The survey showed that 71 percent said it is very important to be governed by leaders elected by the people. Most, however, thought Pakistan was not ruled that way.

"There are very few countries whose citizens don't long for more democracy," said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

He told Cybercast News Service that "those who have ever lived under or near radical Islamist rule understand it's no panacea, but this isn't enough for two reasons: first, the struggle for hearts and minds isn't fought on an even battlefield."

"Many of the most radical causes have the financial support of Saudi donors and will only get more as the price of oil rises," Rubin said. "Second, even if the country was 99 percent liberal, the guys with the guns wield disproportionate control. Pakistan is a deeply flawed country, beset by corruption and with little hope for liberalization."

"Supporters of militant Islam are a small minority, not a political constituency and certainly not major backers of any candidate," noted Steve Kull, director of Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), at a briefing in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

He said this could bode well for U.S. interests, though "there is no faction or Pakistani political party that the U.S. can really turn to. Even supporters of Musharraf view the U.S. negatively."

"From a U.S. standpoint, the most significant finding in the survey is that Pakistanis by a significant margin believe the United States poses a greater threat to Pakistan than either India or al Qaeda," said P.J. Crowley, director of Homeland Security at the liberal Center for American Progress.

"These findings obviously complicate and limit the ability of the U.S. to promote democracy within Pakistan and the region," Crowley told Cybercast News Service. "The survey undoubtedly reflects a perception that U.S. support for President Musharraf is actually an obstacle to the emergence of democracy within Pakistan.

"The fact that this survey was taken before the declaration of emergency rule and the Bhutto assassination would strongly suggest that, if the survey were taken today, the United States would be even more unpopular," he added.

"The good news is that the average Pakistani clearly wants a more democratic system with more effective institutions of government," Crowley said. "The bad news is that the United States is so unpopular in Pakistan today that it will not be able to influence the outcome in any meaningful way, certainly not while its policy continues to offer unqualified support for President Musharraf."

"Democracy is only likely to flourish in Pakistan when strong individual leaders such as Musharraf, [former Prime Minister Benazir] Bhutto and [Nawaz] Sharif are balanced by equally strong institutions of government to act as a counterweight," he added.

"As we saw last fall when Musharraf was able to manipulate emergency rule to get rid of a Supreme Court that was willing to act as a balancer, Pakistan is a long way from being a functioning democracy," Crowley said.

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