August 13, 2009

Pakistani Public Opinion

Chapter 1. The Battle Against Extremism

Pakistanis remain concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in their country and around the world, and views of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban have grown more negative since last year. In addition, a growing percentage of those who think there is a struggle between groups who want to modernize Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalists say they identify with the modernizers. And the view that suicide bombing is never justified is close to unanimous.

Opinions about how to handle the threat of extremism are mixed. A majority opposes U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism. However, there is support for using the Pakistani army to fight extremist groups in parts of the country and for financial and intelligence assistance from the United States. About half support U.S. missile strikes against leaders of extremist groups, but large majorities of Pakistanis who have heard about the ongoing drone missile attacks think they are a bad thing and that they are being conducted by the United States without the approval of the Pakistani government.

Concerns About Extremism

Nearly eight-in-ten Pakistanis (79%) are concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in their country, and 69% worry that extremist groups could take control of Pakistan. These concerns are widespread across demographic and ethnic groups as well as in Punjab, Sindh and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

In the NWFP, a hotbed of militant activity which borders Afghanistan, about three-quarters (74%) worry that extremist groups could take control of Pakistan, including nearly half (47%) who say they are very worried about this possibility. Similarly, 70% in Punjab and 69% in Sindh worry about extremists taking over.

Concern about extremism among Pakistanis has increased somewhat over the past year. Still, overwhelming majorities already expressed concern about the rise of Islamic extremism in their country (72% in 2008 and 74% in 2006) and around the world (73% in 2008 and 71% in 2006) in recent Pew Global Attitudes surveys.

Al Qaeda and Taliban Seen as Threats

About six-in-ten (61%) Pakistanis express an unfavorable opinion of al Qaeda, and just 9% say they view Osama bin Laden’s group favorably. Views of the Taliban are even more negative; 70% have an unfavorable opinion and 10% have a favorable opinion of that group.

Unfavorable opinions of al Qaeda and the Taliban are especially widespread among the most educated. Three-quarters (75%) of those with at least some secondary education have a negative view of al Qaeda, compared with 49% of those with no formal education (45% in that group did not offer an opinion). Similarly, 80% in the more educated group view the Taliban unfavorably, while 60% of those with no formal education share that opinion.

Views of al Qaeda and the Taliban are much more negative than they were a year ago. In 2008, about a quarter of Pakistanis said they had a favorable opinion of al Qaeda (25%) and the Taliban (27%), and about one-third viewed each group unfavorably (34% and 33%, respectively). The image of these groups has slipped across regions as well as across educational and income groups.2

Pakistanis see the Taliban as a more serious threat than al Qaeda. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say the Taliban poses a threat to their country, compared with 61% who say the same about al Qaeda. Those in Sindh and in the NWFP are considerably more likely to see the Taliban as a threat to Pakistan (85% each) than are those in Punjab (68%). Al Qaeda is seen as more of a threat in Sindh (71%) than in the NWFP (63%) and Punjab (59%).

Concerns about al Qaeda and the Taliban are widespread across ethnic groups. More than eight-in-ten Pashtuns (85%) say the Taliban poses a serious threat to Pakistan, as do 80% of Muhajirs, 77% of Sindhis and 71% of Punjabis. Al Qaeda is viewed as a serious threat by nearly seven-in-ten Muhajirs (68%), and about six-in-ten Punjabis, Sindhis and Pashtuns (62% each).3

Opinions about Osama bin Laden have also grown more negative over the past year. Nearly half of Pakistanis (47%) now say they have little or no confidence in bin Laden to do the right thing regarding world affairs and 18% have at least some confidence in the al Qaeda leader. In 2008, more Pakistanis said they had confidence in bin Laden to do the right thing when it came to world affairs (34%) than said they did not have confidence in him (28%).

Pakistani Muslims Say Suicide Bombing Not Justifiable

Opposition to suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets is nearly unanimous among Pakistani Muslims. Nine-in-ten say such acts are rarely or never justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies, with nearly all of those saying it is never justified. This sentiment holds true across demographic, regional and partisan groups.

Among Muslims in the nine countries surveyed where there are sizable Muslim populations, those in Pakistan are the most opposed to suicide bombing. Significant majorities in Indonesia (85%), Jordan (82%), Israel (80%), Turkey (79%), Egypt (75%), and Lebanon (62%) also say such acts of violence are rarely or never justified. However, in no other country is the percentage expressing that view as high as in Pakistan, and the percentage of Muslims in Pakistan who say suicide bombing is never justified is much higher compared with other Muslim publics.

Muslims in Pakistan have not always rejected suicide bombing. In 2002, one-third said suicide bombing was often or sometimes justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies, while about four-in-ten (43%) said it was rarely or never justified. Opinions were even more divided in 2004, when about an equal number of Pakistani Muslims said suicide bombing was at least sometimes justified (41%) as said it was not (43%).

More Muslims Identify with Modernizers

Four-in-ten Muslims say there is a struggle in Pakistan between those who want to modernize the country and Islamic fundamentalists. Of those who say there is a struggle, nearly three-quarters (73%) identify with the modernizers.

The view that there is a struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists is more prevalent among those with higher incomes; 62% of affluent Pakistani Muslims see a struggle, compared with 43% of those with middle incomes and 37% of those with low incomes. Similarly, those who are better educated are more likely to say there is a struggle between those who want to modernize Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalists. There are no significant differences of opinion on this matter, however, between men and women or across age groups.

In Sindh, more than half of Muslims (52%) say there is a struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists in Pakistan. By contrast, 39% in Punjab and 26% in the NWFP share that view (fully 63% in the NWFP did not offer an opinion).

While the percentage of Pakistani Muslims who see a struggle between modernizers and Islamic fundamentalists in their country has remained relatively stable, many more now identify with modernizers than did so in the past. Of those who see a struggle, 73% now say they identify with the modernizers and 16% identify with fundamentalists; in 2008, those who said there was a struggle in their country were nearly evenly divided (51% sided with modernizers and 44% sided with fundamentalists).

Identification with groups that want to modernize Pakistan is now more common across all key demographic groups, but the change has been greatest among those with no formal education. In 2008, nearly six-in-ten (58%) Muslims with no formal education who said there was a struggle sided with Islamic fundamentalists and 37% sided with modernizers. In the current survey, about three-quarters (74%) in that group identify with those who want to modernize and just 16% identifies with fundamentalists.

Opposition to Drone Attacks

Despite their concerns about the rise of Islamic extremism and the threat it poses to their country, Pakistanis who have heard about ongoing missile strikes from drone aircraft that target leaders of extremist groups broadly oppose such attacks.4 About six-in-ten (62%) among those who have heard of the missile strikes say they are a very bad thing, and another 33% say they are a bad thing.

Those who have heard about the missile strikes generally say they are not necessary to defend Pakistan from extremist groups. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say the attacks are not necessary and just about a third (34%) say they are necessary. Moreover, almost all respondents who are aware of the strikes say they kill too many innocent people (93%).

About eight-in-ten (82%) among those who have heard about the missile strikes say they are being launched by the United States, and most think the attacks are being conducted without the approval of the Pakistani government. About six-in-ten (58%) say the attacks are being done without government approval, while 27% disagree.

U.S. Role in Fighting Extremism

More than half in Pakistan (56%) oppose U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism and 72% think the U.S. and NATO should remove their military troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Yet, many see a role for the United States in the battle against extremism.

An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis (72%) support the U.S. providing financial and humanitarian aid to areas where extremist groups operate. There also is broad support for the U.S. providing intelligence and logistical support to Pakistani troops fighting extremist groups; 63% favor this.

Pakistanis are less supportive of the U.S. taking part in military action. Still, after being asked about ways in which the U.S. can assist Pakistan in the fight against extremism, nearly half (47%) say they would favor the U.S. conducting missile strikes against leaders of extremist groups.

Pakistan’s Role in Fighting Extremism

About half of Pakistanis (53%) support and 24% oppose using their country’s army to fight extremist groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in the NWFP. Similarly, half of Pakistanis would favor and 29% would oppose their country assuming more responsibility to combat terrorism around the world.

Those in Punjab are especially likely to say that the Pakistani army should be used to fight extremists in FATA and in the NWFP; 60% in this region express that view. By contrast, about four-in-ten (42%) in the NWFP want the army to fight extremist groups in their province and in the tribal areas; 27% in the NWFP oppose using the army to fight extremists groups and 31% do not offer an opinion.

  1. For income, respondents are grouped into three categories of low, middle and high. Low-income respondents are those with a reported monthly household income of 7,000 rupees or less, middle-income respondents fall between the range of 7,001 to 15,000 rupees per month, and those in the high-income category earn 15,001 rupees or more per month.
  2. “Muhajirs” includes those who describe their ethnicity as “Urdu.”
  3. Only 32% say they have heard about the missile strikes. Because we later ask who is launching the strikes, the question did not specify that these were U.S. missile strikes. According to researchers in Pakistan, many more respondents may have said they have heard of the missile strikes if we had described them as “U.S. missile strikes.”