Pakistani public opinion on the U.S. hits a low point

By Maha Kamal  |  Aug. 26, 2013 at 10:45 PM
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 26 (UPI Next) --

Pakistanis’ perception of the United States has fallen to a new low, placing Pakistan at the top of the list of countries with unfavorable views of the United States, a survey released by the Pew Research Center indicates.

The United States was viewed positively by only 11 percent of 1,201 adults interviewed in Pakistan.

The latest findings, released last month, mark a decline in the U.S. image in Pakistan. Last year, 12 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the United States, while in 2000, 23 percent of Pakistanis surveyed had a positive perception, the Washington research organization said.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of the National Assembly from the moderate Pakistan People's Party, said negative views of the United States among Pakistanis were shaped by the political leadership, the media, the clergy and school curricula.

While Pakistani leaders have often acted as a regional U.S. ally and received assistance from Washington, they have not portrayed the United States in a favorable light to their constituents, Ispahani said.

"There has been a historical dichotomy between what Pakistani leaders say in the U.S. and to American leaders in English, in private meetings, and what their tone and tenor towards them is in Pakistan," she told UPI Next by email.

Anti-American rhetoric was part of the lead-up to Pakistan's May parliamentary elections, as Maulana Shuja-ul-Mulk, a politician for the rightist religious-based party Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, showed.

"I guarantee there will be no terrorism once America leaves," Mulk told an election campaign rally. "America is sucking our blood."

Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said an anti-American narrative among Pakistani opinion leaders portrayed the United States as a meddling superpower.

"What makes things worse is that this narrative -- and the conspiracy theories that fuel it -- has been proven true in certain cases," Kugelman told UPI Next in an email interview.

"For example, take the contention that the CIA wreaks havoc throughout Pakistan. Several years back, a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistani civilians in broad daylight," he said, referring to CIA contractor Raymond Davis' killing of two men in Pakistan's second-largest city, Lahore, in January 2011.

Experts also cited U.S. drone strikes on suspected militant hideouts in tribal areas along the Afghan border as one of the major reasons for a decline in public perception of the United States.

"Pakistani leadership, politicians of all political parties have roundly condemned the use of drones, citing violation of sovereignty and collateral damage of innocent lives," Ispahani said. "The Pakistani media, mostly urban, has been vehemently anti-drone and therefore anti-U.S. in their reports, articles and talk shows."

Between 2004 and 2013, the United States mounted 371 drone strikes killing more than 3,000 people, including 195 children, statistics from the United Kingdom's Bureau of Investigative Journalism show. The drone strikes are controversial among Pakistanis who say it is a violation of the country's sovereignty.

However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during his visit to Pakistan this month, told Pakistan state television that terrorists such as al-Qaida members violate Pakistan's sovereignty.

"When they attack people in mosques and blow up people in villages and in marketplaces, they are violating the sovereignty of the country," Kerry said.

Since 2009, the United States has disbursed $3.55 billion in civilian assistance to Pakistan, a U.S. State Department fact sheet released this month shows.

Between 2002 and 2010, Pakistan received nearly $18 billion in U.S., aid, including $11.5 billion in military assistance and $6 billion in civilian aid, data from the departments of Defense, State and Agriculture and the Agency for International Development show.

Kugelman said U.S. aid money has not made U.S.-Pakistan ties any better.

"There is a strong view in Pakistan that U.S. economic aid is merely a bribe to get Pakistan to support U.S. policies," he said. "Even those in Pakistan who welcome U.S. aid are disappointed, because so much of the promised aid money has not materialized."

Ali Moeen Nawazish, a youth leader in Pakistan and a columnist for a leading national newspaper, said Pakistanis do not see tangible effects of U.S. aid.

"Though they give billions, U.S. aid is not really seen," he told UPI Next by telephone.

Nawazish cited a certain amount of hypocrisy in Pakistani attitudes toward the United States.

"They say they hate America, but if you give anyone a passport, they will be happy to leave because it is seen as a land of opportunity," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. public opinion of Pakistan is also declining, and is "at the lowest point in recent decades," Ispahani said.

"Pakistan is now often mentioned along with Iran and North Korea as one of the most dangerous countries in the world," she said.

Kugelman also said U.S. attitudes were negative toward Pakistan and became outright hostile after the 2011 raid to capture and kill Osama bin Laden, as many Americans believed that Pakistan was knowingly harboring the al-Qaida founder.

"The U.S. and Pakistan are not destined to form a warm and fuzzy relationship," Kugelman said.

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