LAHORE, Pakistan - August 1, 2010 - The Pakistan Taliban may be responsible for attacks that have killed more than 1,000 civilians this year. The U.S. may be in the midst of providing the country with $7.5 billion in aid. But average Pakistanis like the United States less than Al Qaeda and just a little more than the Taliban.
Roughly 17% of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the U.S. in a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, while 59% described the U.S. as an enemy of Pakistan. About 15% view the Taliban favorably, up from 10% a year ago. Al Qaeda tops both groups, with 18% of Pakistanis viewing the group favorably, up from 9% a year ago.
The survey was conducted among 2,000 Pakistanis from April 13-28, 2010.
The findings are likely to add more fuel to the domestic debate over whether Amerikan largess is advancing U.S. interests in the region. A vast trove of United States government documents released by the website Wikileaks this week added more evidence for the belief that Pakistan supports the Taliban inside Afghanistan, leaving many Amerikans wondering if some of the aid to Pakistan isn’t ending up in the hands of Taliban operatives trying to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Capturing the mood, influential U.S. humorist Jon Stewart said this week, “We have ostensibly put a hit out on ourselves. This is insanity.”
In Pakistan, opposition to conditions attached to the $7.5 billion aid package and ongoing concern about civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes aimed at Al Qaeda leaders are major factors fueling anti-Amerikanism, says Christine Fair, a political scientist at Georgetown University.
A surge of conspiracy theories that absolve the Taliban for recent sectarian attacks and instead blame outside forces may help explain the decreased perception of a threat from the Taliban.
“The narrative is these attacks are being carried out by India or Blackwater,” says Professor Fair, referring to the controversial U.S. security contractor now known as Xe. Ordinary Pakistanis are dismayed by what they see as increasingly close U.S. ties with rival India. About 53% of Pakistanis described India as the greatest threat to the country, while 23% see the Taliban as the greatest threat.
In the Main Market shopping area of Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural hub, traders and shoppers are almost unanimous in voicing dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.
“What kind of friends are the Amerikans? They are our false friends and in reality are trying to tear us apart. That’s why they are maintaining good relations with India, who back the Taliban, while at the same time giving our leaders money to fight the Taliban,” says Muhammad Yousuf, a retired shopkeeper, while sipping tea after Friday prayers.
Several people expressed the view that the Taliban were not behind attacks on two Ahmadi sect mosques in May that killed more than 100 people, or the attack on the Data Ganj Baksh shrine in Lahore in July that killed 40 people.