- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 29, 2010

In Pakistan, President Obama is about as popular as President George W. Bush was before he left office, a new Pew poll shows.

A new Pew Global Attitudes Project survey finds Mr. Obama’s approval rating at 8 percent and few Pakistanis confident he will do the right thing in global affairs. Mr. Bush’s approval rating was 7 percent in a similar Pew poll.

“President Obama’s famous global popularity does not extend to Pakistan,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

Mr. Obama received the lower ratings in Pakistan than in any other nation polled this year.

Comparatively, 18 percent of Pakistanis have at least some confidence in Osama bin Laden to do the right thing in world affairs. The study finds that Pakistan is the only predominantly Muslim country surveyed where more express confidence in the al Qaeda leader than in Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama received his highest approval ratings - 94 percent - in his father’s home country, Kenya.

The Pew study polled 2,000 Pakistanis in April. People living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border, which U.S. officials believe is a haven for top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, were not surveyed due to instability.

Less than 17 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the U.S., a rating Pew pollsters said was virtually unchanged from recent years.

“When we asked people questions about the United States, specifically, a majority say they consider the United States an enemy of Pakistan, not an ally of Pakistan, and when we asked that question about China, we got just the reverse answer,” Mr. Kohut said.

Low U.S. favorability ratings are common to Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt.

Pakistan and Egypt are among the top four recipients of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan and Israel.

Yet Pakistanis have mixed assessments of how much financial aid the U.S. gives to Pakistan.

“The Pakistanis, whether the mass public or the elites, love American largesse. They simply detestmost U.S. policies,” said Sumit Ganguly, director of research of the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

The American people also fare badly. Sixty-one percent of Pakistanis polled have a negative view of Americans, while just 18 percent hold a positive opinion.

“Many Pakistanis have long believed that the U.S. is a faithless friend who uses Pakistan when needed and then discards it,” said Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mrs. Schaffer said many Pakistanis see U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as a cause of their domestic troubles. “This explains the low popularity of the U.S. and its leaders. Add to that the widespread view that the U.S. war on terror, as the Bush administration called it, is anti-Muslim,” she said.

The survey found most Pakistanis oppose U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism and want coalition troops to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.

It also reveals some starkly contrasting opinions.

While about 60 percent of Pakistanis polled see the U.S. as an enemy and worry that it could become a military threat to their country, most say it is important for relations between the U.S. and their country to improve.

Similarly, while most Pakistanis support modernizers versus Islamic fundamentalists, 82 percent of Muslims polled said they favor the stoning adulterers, 82 percent support whipping and cutting off hands for crimes such as theft and robbery, 76 percent favor the death penalty for people who convert from Islam, and 85 percent favor segregating men and women in the workplace.

And while terrorism is still seen as a big threat, fewer Pakistanis worry that terrorists will take over their country, compared to last year when the military was fighting the Taliban within 100 miles of the capital Islamabad.

One of the most important findings of the survey was that relatively few Pakistanis believe a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would represent a problem for Pakistan, according to Mr. Kohut.

“Pakistanis are more worried about the external threat of India than they are worried about the internal threat of extremist groups,” he said.

The poll also found high disapproval ratings (93 percent) for a U.S. policy of using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to target militant suspects. Yet many said the death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike, was a good thing.

Pakistanis also have a grim view of the state of their country. Only 14 percent are satisfied with national conditions, while 84 percent say they are dissatisfied.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s approval ratings are down from 32 percent in 2009 to 20 percent this year.

In comparison, the Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, who recently received a three-year extension, a rare occurrence for an army chief, has a 61 percent approval rating.

“Some analysts of South Asia have pointed out that no Army chief has ever extended his term, in a way that Gen. Kiyani just did, without subsequently taking power … he has the poll ratings that might lead him to interpret things that way,” said Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation.

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