Pew Poll Raises More Questions Than Answers

June 22, 2011

Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes ProjectThe latest Pew poll of Pakistani attitudes towards the US and the war on terror raises more questions than it provides answers. While several numbers from the annual survey of Pakistani attitudes are sure to make headlines, what the poll actually reveals may be lost in the numbers.

The poll’s overview begins with a made-for-headlines statement:

Most Pakistanis disapprove of the U.S. military operation that killed Osama bin Laden, and although the al Qaeda leader has not been well-liked in recent years, a majority of Pakistanis describe his death as a bad thing. Only 14% say it is a good thing.

Such a statement will inevitably play to pre-existing suspicions of Pakistan, but what do the poll results really mean? Consider the question posed about Osama bin Laden’s death:

Regardless of how you feel about the U.S. military operation, do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing that Osama bin Laden is dead?

The results are that 14 percent replied, ‘Good thing’; 55 percent replied, ‘Bad thing’; and 32 percent either didn’t know or refused to answer.

Many Americans will read this as evidence of Pakistani sympathy or support for the terrorist leader, but such a conclusion requires assumptions that are not supported by data in the poll. Pew asked respondents whether Osama bin Laden’s death is “Good” or “Bad”, but they never asked why the respondent answered that way. Someone could have answered that Osama’s death was “good” because it would rally extremists, and other could have responded that it was “bad” for the same reason. We don’t know what any of the respondents intended, but are left to interpret the responses through the lens of American attitudes.

Georgetown professor C. Christine Fair explains this phenomenon in her response to Christopher Hitchens’ latest piece on Pakistan for Vanity Fair:

Hitchens is correct in noting that Pakistanis of all strata are deeply outraged that U.S. Navy SEALS came into Abbottabad — a garrison-town — to catch bin Laden without hindrance and with impunity. However, his outrage at Pakistani outrage is misplaced. Of course, Pakistanis should feel so violated because they were. As an American, I support the raid that eliminated this terrorist. However, from the optic of many Pakistanis, they first had to contend with the notion that bin Laden was in their country and second that the United States stormed their airspace, conducted a firefight for 40 minutes in a garrison town and then escaped with its dead quarry all before the Pakistanis could even scramble their F-16s.

Pakistanis themselves began wondering whether their military could protect them from India and whether the United States could act with equal ease to eliminate their nuclear program. Needless to say, all of this came on the back of years of drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas. While the facts about the drone program in Pakistan are grotesquely distorted and obscured by Pakistani and American officials, ultimately perception matters more than reality. Pakistanis, especially beyond FATA, loathe them as weekly assaults upon their nation’s sovereignty. The bin Laden raid was just the latest and most brazen of assaults on the country and demonstrated the incapacity or will of the military or intelligence agencies to stop the United States. Who would not be demoralized and outraged by these events?

There are similar methodological problems with the way Pew asked about Pakistanis’ views of political leaders. According to the poll’s findings, the most favored political leader in Paksitan is Imran Khan. This may come to a surprise to many Pakistanis since Imran Khan’s political party, Tehreek-i-Insaf Pakistan (PTI), has never won more than 1 percent of the vote in an election. Is Imran Khan a rising star in Pakistani politics? That’s not what the poll actually tells us about Pakistani politics.

In surveying Pakistanis about their views of political leaders, Pew limited the field of “Pakistani leaders” to six individuals: President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Notice anything about this list? Only two of the figures Pakistanis were asked about are not current office holders – Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.

With ongoing terrorist attacks, a struggling economy, and incidents such as the Raymond Davis shooting and the Abbottabad operation fresh on people’s minds, is it any wonder that sitting politicians would come under greater scrutiny than those on the sidelines? Even the higher numbers for Imran Khan must be weighed with the consideration that Nawaz Sharif has served as Prime Minister twice, and therefore carries the baggage of past decisions while Imran Khan has never held any political office and has no record for people to judge.

The other strange thing about Pew’s list of political leaders is that they chose to include Imran Khan, but did not ask about political leaders from opposition parties that actually have more support at the polls. Noticeably absent from Pew’s list are Chaudhry Hussain, head of the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid faction (PML-Q) which has 76 seats in parliament; Altaf Hussain, head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which has 32 seats in parliament; Asfandyar Wali Khan, head of Awami National Party (ANP), which has 19 seats in parliament; or Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazlur Rehman faction (JUI-F) which has 16 seats in parliament and was recently awarded the post of opposition leader in the Senate.

Rather than ask Pakistanis about the political leaders and parties that they are actually voting for, Pew skipped much of parliament and asked about a former cricket celebrity who has never held elected office. Additionally, Pew admits that the sample surveyed was “disproportionately urban” and excluded Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and parts of Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Baluchistan. Perhaps this further explains the disproportionate popularity of Imran Khan despite his inability to secure actual votes come election time.

This year’s Pew poll is not the first to come under criticism as being inherently problematic. Following the release of last year’s poll results, Kalsoom Lakhani noted of Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel blog that “quantitative data cannot capture the nuances and complexities of identity and society.” It seems that, unfortunately, this problem continues to plague Pew’s annual poll.

Rachel Maddow interviews Shehrbano Taseer

June 22, 2011

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Roundtable Discussion about US-Pakistan Relations on ABC’s This Week

June 21, 2011

Sunday’s edition of This Week with Christiane Amanpour featured a roundtable discussion about US-Pakistan relations. Joining Amanpour were Pakistan’s Ambassador, Husain Haqqani, David Ignatius, and Liz Cheney.

US Consul General Praises Pakistani Bloggers

June 20, 2011

Pakistan Social Media Summit

Last week, Pakistani bloggers met at a conference to discuss social media, politics, and strategies for using technology to strengthen democracy and open governance in their country. The event, Network! Pakistan’s First International Social Media Summit was sponsored by PC World Pakistan and CIO Pakistan, both leading publications in the field of information technology.

Also at the event was US Consul General William Martin who opened the conference with words of praise for Pakistan’s bloggers and other social media activists.

The summit started off with a welcome note by the US Consul General, William Martin talked about how the bold and active approach assumed by Pakistan’s blogging community ‘validated and energized his vision for Pakistan.’ There are a number of ways in which Pakistanis interact with Information Technology, and the online social media is just one of those. The Consul General praised the efforts made by Pakistan’s social media activists and said, “People here take extraordinary risks to try and inform the world about the happenings around them, and we must work with them and support the whole idea of freedom of press. We all have a responsibility to try and use this powerful tool, the social media, to try and bring about a positive change in the world around us.”

Pakistan has a vibrant social media where bloggers like Raza Rumi, Sana Saleem and group blogs like Pak Tea House are driving a progressive pro-democracy political discussion in Pakistan. By supporting these efforts, the US can help empower more Pakistanis to have a greater voice and create a positive future for their nation.

Steve Inskeep: “I’m often inspired by the people that I meet in Pakistan”

June 15, 2011

NPR’s Steve Inskeep recently spent time in Pakistan where he spoke to people there about the ongoing struggle against terrorism there and why conspiracy theories and suspicion of American motives. What he found is that many people look to conspiracy theories to help explain the seemingly inexplicable – how Osama bin Laden could be living without detection in Abbottabad, how American special forces could carry out a cross-border raid against bin Laden without detection, and how Pakistan can be sovereign and respected in the world while American drones and extremist militants continue to carry out attacks on Pakistani soil. But this culture of conspiracy theories comes not from any ideological opposition to the United States, but from a sense that the people do not know what to believe in a land where verifiable facts are often hard to come by.

Inskeep says he finds the people of Pakistan both resilient and inspiring. Despite constant attacks from terrorists, a lack of transparency from the military, and a struggling economy, Pakistanis continue to carry on their lives with the hope of a brighter tomorrow. Most valuable, though, Inskeep’s report helps provide context for a Pakistani perspective that can seem confusing and disorienting to many Americans. Because our friendship can grow stronger, we must learn to understand each other.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

The Path to Peace and Prosperity

June 14, 2011

Stanley Weiss, Founding Chairman of Business Executives for National Security, offers four recommendations for bringing peace and prosperity to Pakistan in a column for Huffington Post.

Stanley WeissBin Laden’s death within 30 miles of Islamabad has put a spotlight on the Pakistani military. The U.S. should take advantage of this moment to continue re-crafting the relationship from a short-term military alliance to a sustained economic and social partnership, in four ways:

First, root the relationship in trade, not aid. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., recently called for Washington to “move beyond the begging bowl.” A new report from the Center for Global Development provides a good starting point: offer duty-free, quota-free access for all Pakistan exports to the U.S. market for at least five years. As Haqqani says, it would create economic opportunity and foil extremists’ designs to exploit unemployed Pakistani youth;

Second, increase U.S. incentives for investment, including credit programs for Pakistan’s small and medium-sized businesses;

Third, publicize the many economic benefits that would accrue to both nations if India and Pakistan were to normalize relations, an idea a top Indian official told me is “supported at the highest levels of the Indian government.”

Fourth, use leverage from the recent U.S.-India nuclear deal to nudge India, as former Indian Foreign Secretary M. Rasgotra suggested to me, “to create a final settlement on the existing line of control in Kashmir, but then soften it by turning both sides of Kashmir into a Free-Trade Area.”

A Sense of Perspective on Intelligence Leaks

June 13, 2011

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that US officials are concerned after fresh evidence points to a leak in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the nation’s premier spy agency. According to a senior Pakistani military official who spoke with the Post, there is concern that someone within the agency may have tipped off militants about an upcoming operation.

“There is a suspicion that perhaps there was a tip-off,” the official said. “It’s being looked into by our people, and certainly anybody involved will be taken to task.”

This report has caused some to question whether Pakistan is a trustworthy ally in the fight against terrorism, or if the nation’s security services are playing a double-game against the US. While the possibility of a leak within the ISI is troubling, it is important to keep a sense of perspective when evaluating these reports and to refrain from tarring all of Pakistan’s security services with a broad brush.

As the rise of WikiLeaks has amply demonstrated, even the world’s most professional military can find itself infiltrated by an individual who takes it upon himself to reveal official secrets. Despite strict security clearance protocols, Pfc. Bradley Manning was allegedly able to leak over 90,000 secret military and diplomatic reports to the anti-secrecy website. And Manning is not the first American to leak classified information. In an ironic situation last month, a secret CIA memo warning agents about leaks…was leaked.

Clearly, there is a gulf of difference between leaking internal memos about protocol and tipping off enemy combatants about coming raids. But the US – as all nations have – has also had its share of double-agents. Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and Col. George Trofimoff all provided high-level intelligence to the KGB or the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Each of these men betrayed their country by passing secrets to the nation’s enemies. Each of them acted as a rogue double-agent, acting outside of and in opposition to official policy.

CIA director Panetta has traveled to Pakistan to meet with his counterparts there possibly to discuss, among other things, concerns about the possibility of a mole within the ISI. As reported by the Washington Post, Pakistani officials are taking the possibility seriously and working to identify any mole within their services. Having struggled with the problem of double-agents and intelligence leaks in the past, the US can provide important technical assistance to the Pakistani agencies to help ensure that operational security is maintained at all times. This will help ensure the success of future counter-terrorist operations. Casting unwarranted dispersion on a key ally will not.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s Speech at the Center for Global Development

June 9, 2011

Closing Remarks by Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States Husain Haqqani at the release of the Center for Global Development’s report, Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan.

Partners, Not Patrons

June 3, 2011

Center for Global Development logoAt Wednesday afternoon’s release event for the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) new report, Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan, a consistent theme was present in the discussion: Change in Pakistan can only come from within, and if US development assistance is going to be effective, it must support Pakistan’s domestic reformers and invest in building the nation’s domestic capacity.

The reports authors called on Congress to embrace three guiding principles when considering US aid to Pakistan: Humility, patience, and clarity of mission. Current aid policy, the authors found, too often lacks clearly defined or unrealistic goals. As the war in Afghanistan has taken center stage, development in Pakistan became seen as a tool to effect short-term security and diplomacy goals rather than a long-term investment in the economic and political stability of the fledgling democracy.

CGD Project Director Molly Kinder noted that this was a misguided and ultimately self-defeating approach to development in Pakistan. Rather than attempting to use aid as a quid pro quo, she said, US development assistance should be implemented in a way that will “unleash the power of Pakistan’s private sector.” To that end, the authors offer the following five recommends for revising US aid strategy:

1. Let Pakistani products compete in US markets.

2. Actively encourage domestic and foreign private investment.

3. Target aid for long-term impact and beware of unintended consequences.

4. Finance what is already working.

5. Support and engage with Pakistan’s reformers.

Speaking at the event, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, emphasized that the role of aid should be that of a catalyst, sparking innovation and investment in Pakistan’s domestic human and natural resources. The Pakistani Ambassador recounted the story of the Kinnow orange – the most popular citrus fruit in Pakistan – which was brought to Pakistan from California as part of a development program in the 1960s. As the Ambassador explained, the US provided the seeds and the saplings, and Pakistanis grew the trees, tended the groves, and ate the fruit.

H.E. Ambassador Husain HaqqaniFar from a short-term “hearts and minds” project, the Kinnow story represents an alternative way of approaching civilian development that involves American assistance at laying the foundation for domestic production. Similiarly, the Ambassador noted that Institute of Business Administration in Karachi and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) were both founded with investments from the US. Today, each of these institutions represents the excellence of Pakistani education.

In order to return to this model of development, the Ambassador explained, we need to change the way both countries think of aid. Too often, the US-Pakistan relationship is reduced to cliches designed to serve domestic politics. In the US, aid to Pakistan is often seen as something akin to a purchase, causing Americans to ask why Pakistanis are not delivering. In Pakistan, US aid is often the subject of great resentment, with Pakistanis demanding the government “break the begging bowl” and refuse American assistance.

According to Ambassador Haqqani, US and Pakistani leaders need to change the discussion to one that focuses on the US providing support for reforms defined and implemented from within Pakistan. To be successful, aid must be viewed as neither a bribe nor alms, but as an investment in developing domestic capacity. Like the seed for the Kinnow orange or the founding of LUMS, successful development operates as a catalyst to unlock the latent potential in Pakistanis themselves. What Americans receive in return for their investment is the long-term security and stability of a healthy and prosperous partner.

Writing in USA Today last weekend, Pakistani parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani referred to the Marshall Plan after World War II in which the US invested heavily in Europe with the understanding that political stability and economic self-sufficiency were the best bulwark against radicalization.

At the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. understood that political stability in vulnerable countries like France, Italy and Greece was intrinsically linked to the viability of their economies. President Truman advanced the European Recovery Plan (the Marshall Plan) that brilliantly operationalized this thesis, and by doing so saved Western Europe from communism. The same construct should be applied to Pakistan as we jointly work toward the defeat of the terrorist menace and the rebuilding of a peaceful and stable South and Central Asia.

Each of the speakers at Wednesday’s event agreed on a core point – US aid can serve an important role in improving stability and security in Pakistan if implemented correctly. This means abandoning misguided views of aid as a tool of US leverage in Pakistan and working together as partners, not patrons, to help Pakistan achieve success.

Statement by Secretary Clinton on the death of Syed Saleem Shehzad

June 1, 2011

Secretary Hillary ClintonSecretary Clinton issued the following statement upon learning of the death of Syed Saleem Shehzad, a journalist covering Pakistan for Asia Times.

“The United States strongly condemns the abduction and killing of reporter Syed Saleem Shehzad. His work reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan’s stability. We support the Pakistani government’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

We remain committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they work to bring peace and stability to the country.”