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Why most Pakistanis label U.S. “enemy” despite alliance

Why most Pakistanis label U.S. “enemy” despite alliance

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, July 29 (Xinhua) — A new report found a majority of Pakistanis consider the United States an enemy, in spite of Pakistan’ s role as a key ally in the U.S. fight against radicalism.

Regard for the United States in Pakistan ranks lowest among 22 countries surveyed in the Pew Global Attitudes survey, with nearly 60 percent of Pakistanis describing the United States as a nemesis and only 17 percent expressing a favorable view of the country.

“America’ s overall image remains very negative in Pakistan,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center report, titled “America’ s Image Remains Poor: Concern About Extremist Threat Slips in Pakistan,” comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to strengthen ties with Pakistan.

Indeed, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month visited Pakistan and pledged 1.5 billion dollars a year over a five-year period in a bid to beef up Islamabad’ s capacity to aid U.S. strategic goals.

But despite the official line of warming ties, the study found that U.S. President Barack Obama is widely unpopular in Pakistan — a sentiment that bucks the trend of many other countries’ admiration for the U.S. president.

That in spite of his outreach to the Muslim world since taking office and a speech from Cairo, Egypt last year that sought to mend fences in light of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A mere eight percent of Pakistanis expressed confidence that the U.S. president will make the right choices in world affairs — his lowest rating among 22 nations, the report found.

“Obama’ s famous global popularity does not extend to Pakistan,” Kohut said.

Kamran Bokhari, regional director of Middle East and South Asia at global intelligence company Stratfor, said the president initially generated much hope in the Muslim world as a result of his outreach efforts.

But the U.S. surge policy in Afghanistan, which has increased civilian casualties, has undermined Pakistanis’ expectations of Obama. Pakistanis now view him in the same negative light as they did former President George W. Bush.

“Whatever expectations were there are gone now,” Bokhari said.

Many hold the view that Obama will ultimately do what is in the United States’ best interest, which is not always in line with what Pakistan wants, he added.

The recent WikiLeaks fiasco– more than 90,000 U.S. military documents were this week leaked and posted on the Internet– has also re-enforced feelings of mistrust.

Some of the documents charged Pakistan with playing double agent and providing sanctuary to Taliban fighters while objecting to U.S. forces entering parts of Pakistan where Taliban are holed up.

“WikiLeaks has eroded a good deal of the goodwill and trust that had been built up,” Bokhari said. “I don’ t want to exaggerate the extent to which it is a setback, but it does complicate cooperation.”

Pakistanis’ support for the United States in the fight against radicalism has declined since last year. Fewer want Washington to provide support for Pakistani troops, although around half of those surveyed are still in favor of such efforts, the study found.

Pakistanis widely oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan and nearly two-thirds want U.S. and NATO forces to withdraw as soon as possible, the survey said.

Few believe the conflict across the border could seriously impact Pakistan and 25 percent said a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan would be bad, whereas 18 percent said it would be good. Twenty-seven percent said it would not matter and 30 percent expressed no opinion, the report found.

But despite a panoply of negative opinions, most Pakistanis want better relations with the United States, and the number of those for whom an improving relationship is important rose to 64 percent from 53 percent last year.

The findings are based on face-to-face interviews taken last spring with 2,000 Pakistani adults, mostly in urban areas.

“There’s a lot of conspiracy theory that informs the opinions of the Pakistanis,” Bokhari said, adding that such thinking can be found across all facets of society, including the political and military elite.

There also exists an overall fear that India ranks higher on the U.S. list of friends than Pakistan — a reflection of a pre-existing negative opinion of the United States, he said.

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