In this volatile election season in Pakistan, attention is once again turning toward Pakistani national identity, security, and foreign policy. To better assess the situation, USIP and WorldPublicOpinion.org conducted a joint public opinion survey of urban Pakistanis on a wide array of compelling policy questions.
This report is based on the results of a survey conducted from Sept. 12-18, just before President Pervez Musharraf declared a six-week state of emergency and before the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The sample included 907 Pakistani urban adults, selected using multi-stage probability sampling, who were interviewed at home in 19 cities.
Over the past year, Pakistan has endured a series of traumatic events that have brought increasing stress to its people and its political classes, as well as to American policymakers and the international community.
- Role of Islam
There is strong public support for giving Islam a wider role in Pakistan. A large majority feels it is very important to live in a country that is governed according to Islamic principles. A majority says it would like to see Shari’a or Islamic law play a larger role in their country than it does today.
- Views of Democracy
A large majority of Pakistanis endorse democracy. Most Pakistanis say it is very important to live in a country governed by elected representatives. Among those who want a greater role for Islam, support for democracy is even higher than among the population as a whole. Likewise, a large majority supports an independent judiciary.
- Assessment of Pakistani Democracy
Pakistanis are lukewarm about how well their government lives up to democratic principles. A plurality is not confident that the next elections will be free and fair, and few think the courts are independent of political or military influence. Assessments of Pakistan’s protection of human rights are also lukewarm.
- Views of the Government
Majorities express little confidence in the national government’s political institutions including the president, the National Assembly, the Provincial Assemblies, and the police. However, views are mixed about the Nazims and the justice system.
- Views of the Military
In sharp contrast to their negative views of many civilian institutions, Pakistanis express substantial confidence in the armed forces and give the army high ratings for performing traditional military functions. However, when it comes to the army’s role in the ongoing governance of the country, views are complex. While the army is seen as capable, few believe that it has a positive influence on Pakistan’s economy and politics. A plurality says that the role of the army should be limited to military matters.
- Islamist Militant Groups
A large majority of Pakistanis have negative views of Islamist militant organizations such as al Qaeda, local Taliban, and Pakistani militant groups. The activities of these groups are seen as threats to Pakistan and the use of violence against civilians is overwhelmingly rejected. However, a majority also rejects the government’s recent military assault to retake the Red Mosque from Islamist extremists and their militant associates. Awareness of Pakistani militant groups’ activities appears to be low: few perceive that their operations have targeted civilians, that they have relations with the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, or that they provide social services.
- The Federally Administered Tribabl Areas (FATA)
A large majority of Pakistanis want to phase out the FATA’s special legal status and to integrate the areas into the country’s overall legal structure. Few want this to happen abruptly, however; a plurality favors a gradualist approach. Pakistanis strongly prefer negotiating with the Taliban rather than fighting them. Only a small minority supports using military force to exert control while a plurality favors a negotiated approach. The current policy of limited military action while pursuing negotiations with local forces receives plurality approval.
- Relations with the United States
Majority opinion toward the United States is negative. Large majorities say that the United States cannot be trusted to act responsibly and also believe that it has extraordinary influence over Pakistan. US military presence in the region is viewed as a threat to Pakistan. A large and growing majority believe it is a US goal to weaken and divide the Muslim world. A plurality disapproves of how Pakistan’s government has handled relations with the United States. Only one in four feels that security cooperation with the United States has brought Pakistan any benefit.
- Relations with Afghanistan
Majorities see the tensions with Afghanistan as a threat to Pakistan’s interests and approve of the way Pakistan’s government has handled relations with its neighbor. Views of the Taliban’s activities in Afghanistan are quite mixed: nearly half show at least some sympathy for their attacks on NATO troops, while one in three show some sympathy for Taliban attacks on Afghan police and troops. Only one in three believe that the Pakistani government is seriously trying to prevent the Taliban from operating in Afghanistan.
- Ranking of Perceived Threats
Asked to evaluate a series of possible threats to Pakistan’s vital interests, the Pakistani public rates US military presence in the region as a critical threat by the largest percentage. Other threats regarded as critical by majorities include tensions with India and violence between Pakistani religious and ethnic groups. Slightly fewer regard the activities of al Qaeda, local Taliban, and jihadist militants as critical, or the activities of ethnic nationalist movements. Only half see the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons as threatening.
- Trade and Globablization
Large majorities endorse international trade and see it as beneficial for Pakistan, though only a plurality are positive about the idea of globalization.
- Pakistan's Economy
Two thirds feel that Pakistan’s economy has gone off on the wrong track. Nonetheless, a majority approves of how the government is handling the economy.
Majorities express confidence in the educational system and approve of the government’s policies. Pakistanis put the highest priorities on teaching children religious values and good citizenship, followed by basic skills, problem-solving, and independent thinking.