ISLAMABAD — Pakistanis largely disapprove of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, with a majority believing the al-Qaida chief's death is a bad thing and relations between Washington and Islamabad will suffer as a result, new polling data show.
The findings of two Pew Research Center surveys reflect widespread anti-Americanism in a country where many view the U.S. as the main reason for rising Islamist violence that has killed thousands, even as many of the same Pakistanis hold the militants behind such attacks in low regard.
The survey results also show a deep pessimism among Pakistanis about the future of their nation and the caliber of their leaders. Roughly nine in 10 Pakistanis say they are dissatisfied with the direction the country is heading.
U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden on May 2 in the northwest Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad. The unilateral raid outraged Pakistani leaders, who called it a violation of their country's sovereignty while insisting they had no idea bin Laden was hiding on their soil.
Ordinary Pakistanis also were stunned by their military's seeming impotence during the incident, though the Pew surveys show that the army remains widely popular, or at least more popular than the country's civilian leadership.
The surveys were part of the Pew Center's Global Attitudes Project. The first was conducted from April 10-26 among 1,970 Pakistanis. The second was taken May 8-15 among 1,251 Pakistanis and was nearly identical to April's poll except that it also included questions about bin Laden.
Because of security issues, not all regions of Pakistan could be reached, but both surveys cover around 85 percent of the Pakistani population. The margin of sampling error for the April survey is 3 percentage points, while it is 4 percentage points for the May survey.
The May survey found that 63 percent of Pakistanis disapproved of the bin Laden raid, while 10 percent approved and 27 percent gave no opinion.
More than half – 55 percent – saw the terror chief's death as a bad thing, 14 percent saw it as a good thing, while around one-third expressed no opinion. And of those surveyed, 51 percent said the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan would worsen as a result of the raid.
The May poll also showed that the bin Laden raid had little to no impact on Pakistani attitudes toward the U.S., which were already overwhelmingly negative.
Nearly 70 percent of Pakistanis surveyed view the U.S. as an enemy, while fewer then 1 in 10 see it as a partner, both surveys showed. Around three in four have an unfavorable opinion of America, both polls showed.
Though the survey didn't get into the details of why people dislike the U.S., anecdotal evidence over the years suggests that many Pakistanis believe the American military presence in neighboring Afghanistan, and Washington's uneasy alliance with Pakistan's government, has spurred extremists to carry out attacks in their country. There is also residual anger at the perception that the U.S. abandoned Pakistan after enlisting its help to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Many Pakistanis say violence in their country will end if the U.S. would withdraw from Afghanistan and stop interfering in Pakistan's affairs. U.S. leaders have long tried to convince Pakistanis that Islamist extremists pose an existential threat to their country's future.
The post-bin Laden survey also did not delve into why so many people viewed the al-Qaida leader's death as a bad thing.
But it's possible that many Pakistanis were worried about violence by Islamist extremists seeking to avenge bin Laden. The first major revenge attack occurred May 13, when two suicide bombers struck a paramilitary training center in northwest Pakistan, killing 87 people. Overall, more than 150 people have died in suicide and other attacks since the May 2 raid.
The large numbers of people who declined to give an opinion on the bin Laden killing may also have been reflective of the many Pakistanis who in the immediate weeks following the raid didn't necessarily believe bin Laden was dead and thought the entire thing was staged as part of a bigger conspiracy.
For ordinary Pakistani citizens, bin Laden's death is unlikely to have the same kind of impact on their daily lives as the numerous other problems facing their nation, including unemployment, rising prices, and corruption.
Some 60 percent of Pakistanis think the economy will worsen during the next year; just 13 percent believe it will improve.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's approval ratings have plummeted to 11 percent from 20 percent a year ago, the surveys showed. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who has generally fared better in public eyes than the president, has also seen his ratings fall to 37 percent from 59 percent in 2010.
Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani received a 52 percent favorability rating, while one in five Pakistanis rated him unfavorably. Kayani is considered the most powerful man in the country, but the bin Laden raid has dented his image. In the April poll, he received a 57 percent favorable rating.
Despite the bin Laden raid, 79 percent of Pakistanis believe the military has a positive influence on the country. The army, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its 64-year existence, is generally regarded as one of the few competent institutions in the country.
Support for the Pakistani military's campaigns against extremist groups has waned since 2009, when more than half of Pakistanis supported going after Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley, a picturesque northwest region that was once a tourist haven. The Swat operation has largely succeeded.
Today, just 37 percent of Pakistanis support using the army to fight militant groups in the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan or other parts of the northwest. Fewer Pakistanis than in past surveys are very or somewhat worried that extremist groups will take over the country – two years ago, 69 percent expressed such concern, while now it is 55 percent.
Nonetheless, extremist groups are generally unpopular among Pakistanis. Just 12 percent view al-Qaida in a positive light, while both Pakistan and Afghan Taliban groups receive favorability ratings of less than 20 percent.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned militant outfit that has been suspected of involvement in attacks on India is better perceived: 27 percent of Pakistanis surveyed view the group favorably, while 37 percent view it unfavorably.
In fact, 57 percent of Pakistanis polled said they saw India as a bigger threat to their country than the Taliban or al-Qaida. The two nuclear-armed nations have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.
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