The U.S.-Pakistan Relationship: Three Pollsters' Views
April 12, 2012
Pakistanis who live along the country's western border care far less about national security issues and extremism within their borders than many American experts and policymakers think, according to new poll data that hints at what may contribute to the complex relationship between the two countries.
Taken broadly, the data show a disconnect between the U.S. and Pakistan over how each country views issues that are central to politics and policy in both countries.
Since 2009, security and terrorism have declined markedly as a concern in most agencies along the western border of Pakistan, including South and North Waziristan and Khyber agencies. A national poll taken in 2009 in North Waziristan, for example, showed that 73 percent cited security and terrorism as the "biggest local problem." But in 2011, only 10 percent cited that as the biggest problem. And in Khyber agency, 22 percent said that was an important issue in 2009 compared to only 4 percent in 2011.
USIP hosted a discussion March 22 of opinion research on Pakistan. Among the number of policymakers, international experts and others was USIP's Andrew Wilder, director of the Institute's Afghanistan and Pakistan programs.
"While security considerations and safe havens for extremist groups in particular are by far the largest concern of policymakers and analysts in the U.S., for Pakistanis these security-related concerns were far outweighed by bread and butter issues of jobs, inflation and the economy in general – not unlike the concerns of the main concerns of the public in the U.S.," says Wilder. Wilder believes the data show a second disconnect, too. "While many observers in the U.S. view the disproportionate amount of power wielded by the Pakistan military and the weakness of civilian institutions as a major problem in Pakistan, the polling data showed that most Pakistanis have much more confidence in the army than in their democratically elected leaders and political parties," Wilder says.
National polling in FATA was conducted by a U.S.-based international market research firm that does sensitive work on the ground and did not want to be named. Other polls discussed at the event at USIP included one by the International Broadcasting Bureau and one from Gallup that showed that Pakistanis are despondent about their economy and government.
"If you think about the boom times next door in India it is in stark contrast with the economic hardships in Pakistan and the high numbers of people who can't feed themselves or their families," says USIP's Sheldon Himelfarb, director of the Center for Innovation for Media, Conflict and Peacebuilding. "This has a lot to do with the high number of those wanting to emigrate."
Overall, a number of those polled responded with a "don't know" to many questions, and Himelfarb says it's possible to draw a conclusion.
"It reminds me to treat all survey results with a grain of salt, as people are hesitant to share thoughts on touchy subjects," Himelfarb says.
Himelfarb said he was also struck by the extent to which the electronic and digital revolution has bypassed the FATA region in Pakistan where radio continues to dominate. Most of the rest of Pakistan is dominated by television news as its media of choice. The poll conducted by the International Broadcasting Bureau last year showed there is greater confidence in the media than in most public institutions, but "confidence," the poll noted, is a relative term in Pakistan.
That poll also showed a high degree of confidence in the military in Pakistan, far less than the National Assembly or the president. USIP's Moeed Yusuf, a senior advisor on Pakistan, says that the West often creates "convenient realities" about other countries that aren't necessarily borne of reality. There are influential voices in Washington that almost suggest that the U.S. looks at Pakistan as two countries – a "good" one, amenable to our vision and is sometimes portrayed as Pakistan's civilian leaders, and a "bad" one that hinders American interests and is portrayed as the military and intelligence leaders of the country.
"That is not how Pakistanis see their institutions and preferences as these data sets show," says Yusuf. "And so attempting this will create more institutional angst within Pakistan and make it harder, not easier, to deal with Pakistan as a state."