Dominating Pew Research’s latest findings in Pakistan is an uptick in Taliban approval, but the rest of the report explains why. Although 54% of respondents consider the Taliban as a serious threat, with 65% disapproval, adding India to the equation reveals the truth.
The Taliban’s threat rate plunges to 23% compared to India’s 53%.
As suspected US officials have failed to convince Pakistanis that the Taliban or al-Qaeda is the greatest threat to national security (only 3% listed al-Qaeda). If the numbers were broken down further between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, it’s likely that the TTP would absorb a majority of the spite and leave Mullah Omar with a comfortable margin. By utterly failing to address Pakistan’s security concerns with India, President Barack Obama has ensured that Pakistanis continue to view New Delhi and not the Taliban as public enemy number one, impeding his surge in Afghanistan.
Somewhat humorously in Pew’s press release, at the very bottom under “Also of Note,” is the key to the whole equation. 80% of respondents said Kashmir is a major issue, with almost as many labeling it “very big problem.” 8% view Obama positively. These numbers are directly correlated.
As a result the separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) enjoys support even after launching its Mumbai attack. Only 35% of respondents held a negative view with 40% offering no opinion, a partial admission of clandestine support. US officials have repeatedly called for Pakistan’s dismantling of LeT along with the Haqqani network, but without addressing Kashmir’s uncertain status, Pakistani officials have no public support to pursue this end nor strategic reason to.
Since Washington has chosen to avoid Kashmir and still demand Islamabad’s loyalty, logic would assume that substitute measures be devised to cobble together an attractive counteroffer. But both means have proven inadequate for the job. Although Pew’s poll was taken during late April 2010 and not after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit, the numbers suggest Pakistanis remain confused as to the state of US aid.
Apparently the message still needs tuning: “When asked how much financial aid the U.S. gives to their country, 23% of Pakistanis say it gives a lot, 22% say it gives a little, and 10% say the U.S. gives Pakistan hardly any financial assistance. Another 16% of Pakistanis say the U.S. does not give their country any aid, and nearly three-in-ten (29%) say they do not know how much financial assistance their country receives from the American government.”
This comes months after Clinton launched a “fact-correcting” campaign in 2009.
And as we analyzed just last week, using aid as the sole carrot makes for ineffective persuasion. Aid doesn’t buy immunity in other areas of engagement - Obama is weighed down significantly by US foreign policy. Pakistani approval of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq dwell at 6%, Iran at 7% and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at 5%. That should put to rest any doubts that Israel and Palestine are connected to South Asia, along with the wider Middle East and into Africa.
“De-linkage” should be illegal.
By discounting Kashmir and Afghanistan from Pakistani concerns, US aid necessitates strings and reinforces the perception of a client state. This is what Pakistanis mean when 70% want better relations with America. 60% consider the US as an enemy and 11% a partner - they’re looking for equality. The same goes for India where 72% of Pakistanis want improved relations, similar to the majority that considers India a threat.
The recipe for improved US-Pakistani relations, in addition to humanitarian aid, is simple: engage Kashmir, a quicker but still organized withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a Palestinian state. Realistically, Washington is unlikely to enjoy favorable Pakistani sentiment during the rest of its expedition in Afghanistan.