Pakistani Public Opinion: Less Extreme Than Previously Thought?

Do we understand Pakistani public opinion? Here are some thoughts on two polls this week.

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Mere days ago, a Gallup Pakistan poll showed 59 percent of Pakistanis agreed that the United States was the country's greatest threat. Another 18 percent believed India deserved the title, and only 11 percent gave it to the Taliban. The data spread despair and frustration through the foreign policy quarter of the opinion world. Rob Ashgar, a Pakistani-American, came out swinging in The Huffington Post, saying, "No, the biggest threat to Pakistan comes from Pakistanis." Despite Pakistanis' legitimate "grievances" against the U.S., "such a mindset shouldn't be tolerated any longer," he continued. Looking at responses to the numbers, Reuters's Sanjeev Miglani asked, "Can America then really fight this war, with the Pakistani people so dead against it?"

Enter the second poll of the week on the subject. According to Pew Research, 69 per cent of Pakistanis "worry that extremists could take control of the country." Not only does this poll seem to contradict the last, but the numbers even within the Pew poll look extraordinarily contradictory. What does this all mean? Here are some of the proffered answers thus far:

  • Baitulla Mehsud's Death Helped  Last week, Jeremy Page of the London Times predicted a massive boost for U.S.-Pakistan relations coming from the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. Miglani, the Reuters writer, pointed out that the Gallup Pakistan poll was conducted before Mehsud's reported death.
  • Pakistan Sours on Extremism  Real Clear World's Greg Scoblete saw the numbers as promising. "Perhaps the most interesting finding," though, was "that only 32% of Pakistanis had even heard of U.S. missile strikes on Pakistan's territory," he said. "Given that figure, it appears that fears that American drone attacks might destabilize Pakistan could be overblown." Especially when considering Miglani's blaming the Gallup poll results on "drone anger," it is an interesting finding indeed.
  • Not Exactly  Rebecca Bynum of the Iconoclast at New English Review focused instead on the massive support in the Pew numbers for harsh Islamic punishments, including stoning, whipping, and cutting off hands: "One of the ironies in the survey is the extent to which Pakistanis embrace some of the severe laws associated with the Taliban and al Qaeda, even as they reject Islamic extremism and these extremist groups."
  • Pakistanis Oppose Taliban, Still Revile US, rang The Associated Press' headline. Yet another way to spin the data.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.