LAHORE, Pakistan | Barack Obama may be winning in the U.S. and most global popularity polls, but he’s a loser in Pakistan.
Dozens of students interviewed at two top universities in this country’s second-largest city, a cultural melting pot known for its liberal leanings, rejected Mr. Obama as “too aggressive,” “irresponsible” and an “enemy of Muslims” whose stated policy toward insurgency-plagued areas would make a bad situation worse.
The anti-Obama sentiment stems from assertions on the campaign trail that the senator from Illinois, if elected president, would authorize U.S. forces to enter Pakistani territory to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
That the Democratic nominee is an overwhelming favorite abroad is not lost on the students, nor is the Muslim faith of his grandfather nor his Arabic middle name, Hussein.
But that is not enough to overcome concerns that an Obama administration would target and further destabilize Pakistan.
“The only country he’s talking about bombing today is us,” said Sher Afghen Malik, a political science major at the University of the Punjab, to the approving nods of classmates. “How could we possibly support him?”
Posters made by an Islamic student group have found their way onto campus walls, showing a map of Pakistan clutched by hairy, red-fanged claws wrapped in the American flag.
Khansa Qamar, a member of the school’s model United Nations club, said her peers perceive Mr. Obama “as even more dangerous than George W. Bush” with regard to his stance on Pakistan.
By a show of hands, not one among two dozen students in one class supported the Democratic candidate. A little more than half said they prefer Sen. John McCain of Arizona because the Republican presidential candidate’s statements on Pakistan have been less pointed.
Mr. Obama has stressed that he is not calling for an invasion of Pakistan, but restated in the second presidential debate on Oct. 7 that if its government is “unable or unwilling to hunt down [Osama] bin Laden and take him out, then we should.”
Mr. Obama has distinguished himself from the Bush administration in words but not in deeds. Since mid-August, the U.S. has launched at least a dozen attacks on Pakistani soil, most by unmanned drones.
Still, the candidate’s comments set Pakistan’s media machine on spin cycle, hardening the views of many people who otherwise had been supportive of him, said Khalid Butt, a political science instructor at Government College in Lahore.
“This shows what a few misguided statements can do,” he said.
Much of the rest of the world has a much more positive view of an Obama presidency.
A recent survey of 24 nations by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found high levels of interest in the U.S. election and widespread optimism that American foreign policy “will change for the better” under an Obama administration.
In all but three of the nations polled, participants said they had more faith in Mr. Obama than Mr. McCain to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
But most Pakistanis surveyed said they made no distinction between the two candidates. Pakistanis and respondents from three other nations - Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan - collectively anticipated a turn for the worse no matter who wins the U.S. election. All four are large recipients of U.S. military and economic aid.
At a recent daylong seminar on the upcoming U.S. elections, one plucky young woman in a pink shalwar kameez peppered a visiting lecturer with sharp questions about America’s “two-faced agenda of ostensible intentions and ulterior motives” that threatens to shatter its “friendship” with Pakistan.
“In my opinion, the word ‘friendship’ should not be used in international relations,” replied the lecturer, Hafeez Malik of Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. “In the end, a nation will always act in its best interests.”
Student Muhammad Altaf said that most Pakistanis think policies are not forged by the U.S. president but by influential Cabinet officials or, in the case of Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney.
“We have no concern for the candidates. We need the right policies,” Mr. Altaf said, adding that he would support a president “whose policies support Pakistan.”
Some here question whether Mr. Obama’s comments on Pakistan are sincere or mere pre-election posturing to win votes and silence critics who argue that he is soft on foreign policy issues.
“I think he’s just trying to make the right noises,” said Tariq Ali, a student at the University of the Punjab.
“The equation might change once he’s in office,” said Aziz Numan. “He’s not well briefed enough yet.”
Another student was also cautiously optimistic.
Mr. Obama’s grandfather “was still a Muslim,” said Muhammad Akmal, “so we hope that means something for us.”