04 November 2009

Pakistani Public Opinion

In the wake of continued bombings in Pakistan, it's very interesting to read local Pak media and quotes from Pakistanis interviewed on scene to better understand how locals are viewing the attacks.

A good article in today's NY Times discusses the puzzling phenomenon of Pakistanis being unable/unwilling to recognize that its their own people who are blowing them up (see full article here). Even as attacks shift from targeting policy and security forces to now killing mostly women and children, most locals refuse to believe the attacks are not being pushed on them by "someone else." Most blame the attacks on either the Indians, the Americans, or the Mossad - with one local interviewed explaining, “The Taliban talk about morality and women’s dress, but they wouldn’t do such a thing to us.”

Feeding into these conspiracy theories, top Pakistani military and government leaders continue to attempt to blame India for many of the problems and attacks which to an unbiased observer seem to be pretty clearly linked to the Taliban and AQ. Bill Roggio, from the Long War Journal, recently posted two great articles (read them here and here) discussing this topic - citing the recent false claims by the Pakistani Army that they found ammo and artillery manufactured and supplied by India during their ongoing operations in Waziristan. In another great article discussing the same topic, Roggio highlights the fact that some top Pakistani leaders blamed India's external intelligence wing (the Research and Analysis Wing) for the mid-October coordinated attacks on three police centers in Lahore. See full article here.

Further confirming the pervasiveness of these conspiracy theories that blame outside powers, Gallup's Pakistan office released a poll yesterday which discusses ongoing operations in Waziristan to target the Taliban. In a set of interesting results, the survey reports that 39% of respondents feel that the ongoing war against the Taliban is solely America's war, while only 37% believe it is Pakistan's war and 22% believe there is shared interest. Additionally, when asked who was "responsible for the crisis in Waziristan," 35% of respondents said the US was responsible, 31% said the Pakistani government/politicians was responsible, and only 25% blamed the Taliban. See the full results of the survey here.

As we continue to send senior Obama administration officials to Pakistan (most recently Sen. Kerry and Sec. State Clinton), they must understand this perspective and attempt to influence the opinions of local and key leaders across the country so that they understand the criticality of the Taliban/AQ threat and the shared interests we have with Pakistan. Until the local populace is convinced that the recent attacks are in fact the work of the Taliban (an organization mostly composed of their own countrymen), the "public will" to truly go after the Taliban will not exist.

**Update: For another great read on this topic, check out the recent posting on Abu Muqawama, by guest blogger Londonstani. He is currently traveling around Pakistan conducting research and provides a great first-person perspective that draws on interviews he conducted with several Pakistanis. It appears that many of their thoughts echo the findings of the survey and the articles above. Read the full post here.

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