‘US gaining popularity in Pakistan’
WASHINGTON: A new poll conducted by an ideologically-oriented US organisation in association with a Pakistani group has claimed that the people of Pakistan now hold a more favourable opinion of the United States than at any time since 9/11, while support for Al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since.
The direct cause for this dramatic shift in opinion is being attributed to American humanitarian assistance for Pakistan’s October earthquake victims.
The poll has been conducted by an outfit called Terror Free Tomorrow in association with ACNielson Pakistan. The results form the basis of a jointly-authored article in the Wall Street Journal by Pakistani academic Husain Haqqani and Ken Billen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow. According to the findings, “Pakistanis with a favourable opinion of the United States has doubled from 23 percent in May 2005 to more than 46 percent today. Support for Bin Laden over the same period dropped from 51 percent to just 33 percent now. The reason: 78 percent of those surveyed said that American assistance had made them feel more favourable to the United States - even an astonishing 79 percent of those with confidence in Bin Laden now have a more favourable view of the US because of American earthquake aid.”
The pollsters quote Husain Haqqani, who is also an adviser to Terror Free Tomorrow, as observing, “The only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons, Pakistan has long been a stronghold for Islamist radicals, and is the likely base for Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders planning further attacks against the US. This poll documents the most significant shift in Pakistani, indeed Muslim, public opinion since 9/11.”
According to Billen, “Clearly, American humanitarian assistance can make a significant and immediate difference in eroding the popular support base for global terrorists. The US ‘war on terror’ has not.” The poll says it surveyed 1,450 Pakistani adults over November 14-28, 2005, and has a margin of error of 2.6 percent. About 73 percent of Pakistanis surveyed now believe that suicide terrorist attacks are never justified, up from 46 percent just last May. Support for Osama Bin Laden has declined significantly (51 percent favourable in May 2005 to just 33 percent in November), while those who oppose him rose from 23 percent to 41 percent. US favourabilty among Pakistanis has doubled from 23 percent in May to more than 46 percent now, while the percentage of Pakistanis with very unfavourable views declined from 48 percent to 28 percent. For the first time since 9/11, more Pakistanis are now favourable to the United States than unfavourable. Seventy-eight percent of Pakistanis have a more favourable opinion of the United States because of the American response to the earthquake, with the strongest support among those under 35, while 79 percent of those with confidence in Bin Laden now have a more favourable view of the US because of American earthquake aid. Eighty-one percent said that earthquake relief was important for them in forming their overall opinion of the United States.
In the Wall Street Journal article, Haqqani and Billen reject what they call “the popularly peddled view” that anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is so pervasive and deep-rooted it might take generations to alter. They claim that a similar picture is evident in Indonesia, largely because of “American generosity” in the wake of a major natural disaster. “If these changes in Pakistan and Indonesia influence thinking in other countries, then we could be looking at a broader shift in public sentiment across the Muslim world,” they write.
They believe that direct contact with Americans on a humanitarian mission, including military personnel, clearly has a positive impact on how Muslims view America. They add that still more work remains to be done. “The Muslim street is still not sold on specific American policies, with the poll finding the Pakistani public now oppose current US policy in the war on terror by a larger margin than in May. But the overall message from Pakistan, pointing towards a potential trend in the Muslim world in general, is a positive one. By cutting out the middle men who all too often portray a poisonous image of the US, direct American engagement in humanitarian assistance not only ensures its aid reaches those in need but can also play a powerful role in marginalising the foot soldiers for Bin Laden and other supporters of extremist Islamic causes,” the two authors argue. khalid hasan