Why Is Obama So Disliked By Pakistan?

by THE EDITOR August 3, 2010
Pew’s Findings
The latest release of the Pew Global Attitudes Project was published last week. The Pew Global Attitudes surveys form a polling series that was initiated in 2001 with the first of these reports published on August 15, 2001.
The surveys have always attracted media attention, though this year the press in America and the West seem comparatively less enthusiastic to examine the report’s findings in detail. The main finding of the latest Pew report (overview here, and pdf full report here) is that in Pakistan, the general feeling amongst the public is still overwhelmingly hostile towards America.
In the August 13, 2009 report (pdf, chapter 3, p. 17), 68 % of Pakistanis had an unfavorable view of the United States, with only 16 per cent having a favorable view. That situation has changed slightly for the better. In the current report (pdf, chapter 2, p. 15), 68 % of Pakistanis still have an unfavorable view of America, but 17 % of respondents indicated that they were favorably disposed to the USA.
In 2005, for example (pdf, p. 12), 23 % of Pakistanis had a favorable view of the United States, and only 60 % had an unfavorable view. Using the data provided by Pew, what has been the general trend in Pakistan’s views of America?
Between the years 2000 and 2008, America’s popularity has fluctuated wildly.
In 1999-2000, Pakistan’s approval rating for the USA was not high, standing at 23 %. In 2002, after the “War on Terror” had started, this had dropped dramatically to 10 %. This rose to 13 % in 2003, then increased to 21 % in 2004, then 23 % in 2005, and then reached a peak of 27% in 2006.
Then something happened. The popularity of America slumped in 2007 to 15 % and then rose to 19% in 2008. A drop of 12 per cent popularity in one year (2007) had to be caused by something important.
Three things happened in 2006 , the year leading up to the poll that saw the massive slump. The first was a manufactured event, instigated mainly by fanatics from the MMA coalition of Islamist parties – the reaction to the Danish cartoons. Qazi Hussain Ahmed (pictured below), the MMA chairman and head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, had been instrumental in using the cartoon demonstrations to call for the death of President Musharraf and at the same time mount demonstrations calling for the destruction of the USA.
However, even though cartoon protests were connected with larger protest movements that would continue, the anti-cartoon jihad had already peaked long before the poll of 2006, where America had received a 27 % approval rating.
The other two developments were related – Musharraf’s popularity began to wane as fundamentalist protests became more vocal, along with resentment of American activity in the “War on Terror”. Musharraf was seen by many in Pakistan as a stooge of the West, and the political resentment against
Musharraf’s regime went hand-in-hand with a growing resentment of American policy in the tribal regions. In Islamabad  throughout 2006, the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) complex began to mount more dramatic protests against Musharraf. There were two madrassa colleges within the Red Mosque complex, and many of their students came from NWFP.
One visible source of resentment that originated in NWFP and had been mounting throughout 2006 was the use of unmanned drones to attack suspected militant targets in the tribal areas. Would the reaction to these missions have affected people’s perceptions of America?
Drone Attacks
At the end of 2006 there was a general reaction within Pakistan to events going on in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) which could be linked more directly to American activity. NWFP contains the border agencies (Federally Administrated Tribal Areas or FATA) that lie alongside the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistan army had been present in high numbers in that region since 2002, to hunt down the Taliban and Al Qaeda members who had hidden there.
Occasionally, airstrikes had been made upon specific targets in this region. Pakistan, for example had mounted helicopter gunship attacks upon suspected targets. On October 3, 2003, one such attack had killed the Canadian suspected Al-Qaeda member Ahmed Said Khadr and wounded his son AbdulKareem (who was shot in the spine).
At the end of 2005, it became evident that unmanned Predator drones were targeting houses in the border regions of NWFP that were hiding suspected Al Qaeda members. The attacks by Predator drones were accurate in their targeting, but by using Hellfire missiles, they produced more collateral damage and casualties than raids mounted by helicopter gunships.
American use of Predator drones to carry out targeted assassinations first became widely publicized after an explosion that took place in Mosaki village in North Waziristan, NWFP. This incident in which at least six people died, was first reported to have taken place on November 5, 2005. Local people had said that Arabs had been living in the house for several months.
A month later, it was revealedby President Musharraf that a senior Al Qaeda member had been hit in a subsequent blast. This individual was Egyptian-born Abu Hamza Rabia, who was the third in command of the Al Qaeda hierarchy. The November attack was said to have killed Rabia’s family, and he had been injured. He had escaped with a broken leg. However, intelligence sources claimed that Rabia had been killed in a second explosion in the village of Haisori.
It has subsequently been claimed that as well as Rabia, another of the five people who were killed in the Haisori attack was Amer Azizi. This individual is believed to have been a main instigator of the train bombings that took place in Madrid, Spain on March 11, 2004, killing 191 civilians.
The second explosion which took place on December 1, 2005 was said by anonymous intelligence experts to have been carried out by missiles. The official story promoted by the Pakistani authorities had been that explosives stored in the house in Haisori village had detonated accidentally
One Pakistani journalist, Hayatullah Khan, would lose his life when he revealed photographic evidence from the scene of the blast. His photographs showed shrapnel which bore English wording. Khan mainly worked for the Nation newspaper. On December 5, 2005, he had been kidnapped by gunmen. Six months later, his body was found in the Khaisor Mountains. He had been shot in the head. It has been assumed by some that Khan was killed by members of Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence).
Khan’s investigations had brought him into conflict with various groups. According to the Washington Post:
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Khan had in the past been threatened by security forces, suspected Taliban members and tribesmen for his reporting. U.S. forces in Afghanistan detained him for five days in 2002, his colleagues said.
No-one now denies that the event in which Abu Hamza Rabia and Amer Azizi were killed was the work of a Predator drone. At the time, US officials were silent on the issue and the issue of drone usage is still not officially discussed.
On January 13, 2006, a similar explosion took place. On this occasion there was a groundswell of reaction from Pakistani civilians. The event had taken place in the village of Damadola, six miles from the Afghanistan border. The targeted victim had been Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was assumed to have been attending a meeting at Damadola at that time.
Zawahiri had not attended the meeting as planned, but one high-level Al Qaeda operative was killed.  This man was Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, who was also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri (pictured). This individual had a reward of $5 million on his head under the US Rewards for Justice scheme. Abu Khabab had been killed in the attack. He had been Al Qaeda's explosives and training expert. He ran terror training classes in Derunta, Afghanistan until the US invasion of 2001. According to FBI agent and terror consultant Jack Cloonan, who was commenting at the time:
“He's the man who trained the shoe bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, as well as hundreds of others. He wants to cause mayhem, major death, and he puts his expertise on the line. So the fact that we took him out is significant."
There was a downside to this victory in the War on Terror – three houses had been totally destroyed in the attack. Eighteen people had been killed, and these included women and children. The reaction from the public in NWFP was one of rage.
Later in the same year, a madrassa was attacked in Bajuar agency, near the Afghan border. The attack took place on October 30, 2006. Major-General Shaukat Sultan said that up to 80 supporters of the Taliban had been killed in the attack on the madrassa.
Local politicians connected with the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal) and Jamaat-e-Islami Party had claimed that many of the victims were young, including children aged 7 years old. The Pakistan government denied this, claiming only adults were among the dead. Musharraf defended the attack, claiming that the madrassa had been a known source of trouble and support for terrorism. He said that Maulvi Liaqat, the madrassa head, had been monitored for a year. He also condemned the Islamist MMA parties who had mounted protests against the destruction of the madrassa. Musharraf said:
“The MMA has no right to criticize the operation as they give tickets of [sic] heaven to extremists while their own children sit in full comfort at home.”
Later, on November 22, 42 Pakistani troops were killed in a suicide attack, apparently done in revenge for the madrassa bombing. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack upon the soldiers. Even though the media in Pakistan had claimed that the original madrassa attack had been carried out by the Pakistan army, it was later claimed that the strikes were the work of US missiles. The Daily Times reported:
“We thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US,” said a key aide to President Pervez Musharraf. “But there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again.”
The Pakistan government had signed an “accord” with the Taliban of Waziristan on September 5, 2006. Within days of the peace deal between the Pakistan government and tribal leaders close to the Taliban, the bodies of alleged “US spies” were found, breaking the agreement to stop targeted killings.
Despite the initial worries of American drone attacks, Musharraf himself seems to have been the focus of Pakistan’s anger in 2007. At the start of the year, the students in the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) complex had taken over a children’s library and threatened suicide attacks if sharia law was not introduced.
On March 9, 2007, the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudury, had been summarily dismissed from his post by Pervez Musharraf. This action caused a series of protests. The Islamists from the MMA, who had been supporting the Red Mosque activists in their protests against the state, also supported the lawyers who were mounting prtests for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice. Some people assumed at the time that Musharraf – who had virtually become a dictator within Pakistan, holding the roles of president and head of the army – intended to stifle judicial freedoms in the run-up to elections planned for later that year.
The data for the 2007 Pew Report (pdf, page 75) was carried out between April 18 and May 10, in face-to-face interviews with 2,008 individuals. At this time, Pakistan was in a state of chaos created by the protests from lawyers and the destructive activities of the Lal Masjid mosque members.
On Sunday March 25, 2007, Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque announced that he would set up his own FM radio station in the city and use it to demand sharia law. The next day, women from the Jamia Hafsa madrassa (part of the Rd mosque complex) rampaged through video and music stores in Islamabad. Aziz' brother Rashid Ghazi said:
"Our students launched a campaign against the vulgar video films in the city. They approached shopkeepers and advised them to remove all vulgar films from the shops. One of the store owners pointed out that a brothel is operating in the area and it should be the priority."
The "brothel" was then invaded. This was the home of an elderly woman called Aunty Shamin (pictured). The women fanatics abducted the woman, her daughter, her daughter-in-law, and also her six-month old granddaughter. The kidnap victims were taken to the Jamia Hafsa madrassa.
 On March 27, police tried to arrest female teachers of the madrassa. Male madrassa students intervened, and two police officers were taken hostage. The policemen were released on March 28. On March 29, the women and baby were released, but only after they read out "confessions" of their immorality. Aunty Shamin said: "I apologize for my past wrongdoing and I promise in the name of God that in future I will live like a pious person." She later retracted her statement, and accused the fanatics of tying up the baby. She said: "I don't think Islam allows anyone to beat a woman and drag her through the streets like a dog. They tied me, my daughter and daughter-in-law and my six-month-old grand-daughter up with rope."
The Red Mosque members were trying to bring down the government and with it, any hope of democracy, and there was a state of tension. The situation would eventually get so bad that Musharraf would institute a state of emergency between November and December 2007. He had come close to announcing such a decision in August.
When the 2007 polls were carried out by Pew, it seems that people were scared that they were going to lose their chance of a fair election, and perhaps assumed that America (the country that had supported Musharraf after he had mounted a coup) did not want free elections to happen.
In April 2007, the issue of the drone attacks only seemed to be a source of great consternation for people either connected to the Islamist MMA parties or those who lived in the tribal regions, where the drone raids were taking place. Musharraf eventually did allow the elections to take place. His political rivals Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were allowed to return to Pakistan to mount their election campaigns, though Bhutto herself was killed in a bomb attack on December 27, 2007.
Drone Attacks Condemned By Civilian Government
The drone attacks continued. On March 25, 2008, an elected civilian government took power. The Jamaat-e-Islami party and other Islamist parties of the MMA (who had comprised 65 members in the previous National Assembly) had officially boycotted the elections and Islamists only gained 4 % off the seats.
The continued use of drones, which had not been a major source of friction between Musharraf and the administration of George Bush, became an issue for the new civilian government of Pakistan. The day before the civilian government took office, reports in the Pakistan media were circulating that suggested that the US believed drone attacks to be pivotal to success against insurgents. The USA was also defending its pursuit of militants who had fled from Afghanistan into the Pakistan border agencies.
The new Pakistan administration openly condemned the use of drones. On January 20, 2009, president Obama took office. On January 22, 2009, he announced that he had appointed Richard Holbrooke to be the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The very next day, there was a twin drone attack in North Waziristan, in which several people were killed. Civilians were among the dead. Though some Arabs had been among the victims, more civilians than Taliban/insurgents were killed in the attacks.
In April, 2009, Pakistan’s information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, condemned the US drone attacks that were continuing under the Obama administration. The Jamaat-e-Islami party also threatened to march against Islambad if the drone attacks did not stop. Sirajul Haq, who was a provincial party chief in NWFP said: “People can accept death but can never live as slaves of America. It was the US that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two Japanese cities” He claimed that America was trying to control Pakistan and was an enemy to its mosques and education system.
In May 2009, there were rumors that US human rights activists would mount legal challenges against the drones, but these never materialized.
When Richard Holbrooke met Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on July 22, 2009, Pakistani concerns about drones were again raised. Gilani told him that: “Continued drone attacks in FATA have proved counterproductive and have seriously impeded Pakistan's efforts towards rooting out militancy and terrorism from that area.”
After a drone attack apparently failed to kill Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, on January 22, 2010, the UK Guardian stated:
“The CIA has stepped up its campaign of covert drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal belt since the 30 December suicide bombing of a remote spy post in southern Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence official.”
The current administration led by President Obama and using strategies endorsed by Richard Holbrooke, has engaged in a severe ramping up of drone attacks. A very recent report by the BBC claims that the drone operations have tripled under the current administration:
Compared with 25 drone strikes between January 2008 and January 2009, there were at least 87 such attacks between President Obama taking office on 20 January 2009 and the end of June 2010.
More than 700 people have been killed in such attacks under Mr Obama, compared with slightly fewer than 200 from under his predecessor, George W Bush.
The increased frequency of drone strikes follows a reported shift in US policy to extend its drone operations. It has moved from targeting al-Qaeda suspects to including Pakistani Taliban who are believed to be providing a haven for al-Qaeda leaders and operatives.
The bulk of these attacks have been in North Waziristan, with neighbouring South Waziristan the next main target.
While more than 700 people have died in these attacks, positive identification of the victims, either by Pakistani or US authorities, has been made in fewer than a dozen instances.
The Pew data for 2009 and 2010 shows that overall, the administration is viewed LESS favorably than during the second term of the Bush administration. During George Bush’s second term, after the low point of 15 % in 2007, by the following year, the approval ratings for America had risen again to 19 %.
In August 2007, while he was still a senator, Obama had announced: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.”
In July 2008, George W. Bush had secretly authorized the use of ground assaults within Pakistani territory without the need for prior approval from the Pakistan government. It was believed that some US operations had become compromised once Pakistan had become aware of information.
So in some aspects, the attitudes of both presidents to the Pakistan insurgent situation were similar. But under Obama’s administration, concerning the use of drones against targets, even though such attacks are further alienating the civilian government, it is a question of scale and frequency.
Polling Data
According to the latest Pew report (pdf, p. v and 11) Pakistanis are now – compared to how they were in 2009 - less worried about extremists taking over the nation. In 2009, 73 % viewed the Taliban as a serious threat and now only 54 % see them as a great danger. Those who viewed the Taliban and Al Qaeda favorably have increased (respectively 5 and 9 percentage points) since 2009.
The majority of those questioned (53 %) thought India was the greatest threat to their country, with the Taliban viewed as the greatest threat by 23 %.
65 per cent of Pakistanis want the USA and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan. The samples from Pakistan were taken between April 13 to 28, 2010, and in common with previous reports were mainly provided by respondents from an urban background.
The surprising part of the finding is the general ignorance of the drone attacks that have caused so much consternation in government and among the Islamist groups who have links to the tribal FATA regions. Among the predominantly urban people who responded to Pew’s interviews, only 35 % of respondents (p. 12) were aware that drone attacks took place. Of those that were aware of the strikes, 93 % believe they are a “bad thing” and 49% think they are being carried out without the approval of the Pakistan government. 33 % believe that the attacks are carried out with Pakistani government approval.
In August 2009, Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed in a drone attack. 47 % thought it was good that Mehsud had been killed by a drone strike, and 31 % thought it was bad.
On page 16, it is revealed that 61 % of Pakistanis polled disliked American people. Only 18 % have positive opinions of Americans.
Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice whose sacking led to protests by lawyers, is viewed favorably by 60 % of Pakistanis (p. 34), but the respect for Ali Asif Zardari, president of Pakistan, has dropped to an all-time low. In 2008, only 24 % of respondents had a negative view of him, rising in 2009 to 65 %. Now, 76 % of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of Zardari (p. 33).
The military are viewed favorably by 84 % of the public (p. 35) while the police have only 29 % of the respondents holding a favorable opinion of them.
The respondents’ views of the current American president are decidedly poor. On page 15, the report states:
Obama receives lower ratings in Pakistan than in any other nation polled in 2010. Fewer than one-in-ten Pakistanis have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Overall evaluations of Obama’s international policies are also negative, and majorities disapprove of the way he is handling the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as two important issues in the Middle East – Iran and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
There is no reason given for why Obama is seen in such a negative light. In an earlier report (pdf, p. 10) President Bush received a 10 percent approval rating in Pakistan in 2005 and 2006. Obama has, after all, tried far harder than Bush to show solidarity with Muslims, yet he has not yet gained 10 % approval.
Does the president need to embark upon a different approach to gain Pakistani hearts and minds?

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