The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Army

Pakistani Army GHQ under attack

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Really, the point I made in my previous post has been proved right. Spend all this time arguing over the Kerry-Lugar/Berman bill and militants sneak in (quite like the wooden horse in Troy) to attack the Pakistani army General Headquarters. As the battle goes on in Rawalpindi, which has left 3 dead,  its time to rethink priorities. Focus people: We’re a country at war with severe economic problems.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 10, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Pakistan gets surveyed II: No major surprises

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This time, its by the folks at the International Republican Institute. I didn’t blog about the IRI’s survey earlier this year, but we did a summary of the Al Jazeera and Pew surveys here. (Worth bookmarking so you can whip it out during your next conversation about Pakistan)

The IRI survey focuses on several key areas, but for the short term its worth looking at the leadership ratings as well as opinions on the Taliban and foreign policy. I’ll probably post more from the report later on today but for now – and having just seen a rather disturbing video of the Pakistan Army reportedly beating up suspects – this will have to do.

Its the economy, stupid

Firstly, the biggest issue for Pakistan right now is the economy: Pakistanis’ biggest concern is inflation (40%), their economic condition has worsened (72%) and they’re not optimistic either (58% say the condition will worsen)

Terrorism and the Taliban

Public opinion has turned against the Taliban – every pundit, blogger and news channel will tell you that – and so did the Pew and Al Jazeera surveys.

IRI survey-1

There’s a 17% increase in public opinion that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operating in Pakistan are a serious problem, and 90% of the respondents say that religious extremism is a problem in Pakistan. However, if a parliamentary election were to be held, 61% of respondents would vote in for a coalition of religious parties led by the PML-N.

The army operation gets more props, but American incursions remain unpopular. No surprises there. Peace deals with extremists also have less support now, according to this survey (from 72% in March to 46% in July)

And there isn’t much support for extremists using Pakistan as a base to launch attacks on India and Afghanistan. 71% of respondents say that its a very serious problem while 18% say its a somewhat serious problem, making it 89% against.

Popular Avenue

Now this one really made me laugh. People, prepare for a Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari government in the not-so-distant future, since 2% of respondents think Bilawal Bhutto can handle Pakistan’s problems effectively. Asfandyar Wali and Qazi Hussain Ahmed have 1% each.

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Also, Mulla Omar is the most disliked ‘political’ (they’ve included COAS General Ashfaq Kayani and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in the list) figure, with 88% of respondents saying they disliked him.

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Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 2, 2009 at 6:41 am

Pakistan gets surveyed: No major surprises

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A couple of surveys have been released about Pakistan recently. The first, was an Al Jazeera commissioned survey done by Gallup Pakistan; which delivers a fairly interesting insight into the way prospective voters are viewing issues about Pakistan.

The second is a survey done by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (h/t Foreign Policy’s AfPak channel) which is a more comprehensive survey ranging across a number of issues.

Points of note:

survey1Asif Ali Zardari’s unpopularity

Much has been made of this: a 42% disapproval rating is fairly high. But what’s interesting is that the disapproval ratings are as high amongst voters for the PPP as well as its coalition partners, notably the ANP and MQM. This may not  bode well for the President in the long run; if the parties decide to breakaway and forge a partnership with the PML-N – whose leader Nawaz Sharif is said by 38% of respondents (the highest) to be the ‘best’ leader for the country, President Zardari may find himself in trouble. Though there seems to be little chance of that happening unless another constitutional crisis emerges.

survey3Next up, is good news for the army – the military operation in FATA has found approval in Pakistan. In 2008, the Taliban were considered unfavourable by 33% of respondents – in 2009, its gone up to 70%.  Combine the number of suicide bombings, attacks on army and police installations and the influx of terror tales from Swat and that was a shift that was bound to happen; but I have personally been fairly cynical trying to figure out if the operation has found popularity, given the lackluster response to fundraising for the IDPs in the cities. The Al Jazeera survey puts the number at 42% for approval of the military operation.

But while the Taliban may be down on the popularity graph, what’s interesting is that the respondents of the Pew survey approve of the strict punishments (ala those in KSA) that the Taliban would have brought in. As the report pointed out:

265-7The new poll finds broad support for harsh punishments: 78% favor death for those who leave Islam; 80% favor whippings and cutting off hands for crimes like theft and robbery; and 83% favor stoning adulterers.

But all isn’t lost..

Pakistani public opinion departs significantly from the Taliban on the issues of girls’ education and extremist violence.

As many as 87% of Pakistanis believe it is equally important for boys and girls to be educated.

The poll also finds that support for suicide bombing that targets civilians in defense of Islam remains very low.

Only 5% of Pakistani Muslims believe these kinds of attacks can often or sometimes be justified; as recently as 2004 roughly four-in-ten (41%) held this view. Fully 87% now say such attacks can never be justified – the highest percentage among the Muslim publics included in the 2009 survey.

265 12-2265 12-1The shift over the years, from 2002-2009 is interesting because the countries surveyed (seen above) have seen a massive increase in suicide attacks. The Iraq invasion saw a rise in the number of suicide bombings – from 25 in 2003 to 257 in 2008, and Pakistan – as mentioned above – has seen a huge increase over the years. So the shift in the perception is highly important if the military expects and wants the country to be fully on board with the military operation.

The survey also points out the usual: the unpopularity of the US. This isn’t a surprise – the US has been considered extremely hostile and unpopular over the decades, with an escalation in public opinion in 2003 (My assumption is that the hike was because of the Iraq war and the attack the year before at the US consulate in Karachi).

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survey2Sadly for the US administration though, the views extend to President Barack Obama and the US is still being counted as a ‘threat’ to the country. I particularly find it interesting that the least ratings are given to two countries that get a lot of aid from the US – Pakistan and Jordan; and we can expect a refrain of ‘oh those ungrateful Pakistanis!’ considering the US has given $15 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001.

The Washington Post quoted US Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was asked about the Pew group’s survey results:

Asked Thursday about a new poll of Pakistanis indicating that 64 percent view the United States as an enemy, Gates said, “The Pakistanis probably — and with some legitimacy — question . . . how long are we prepared to stay there?” He said that “we walked away from them” after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and that assistance was restricted in the 1990s because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

Although a close relationship was developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “it’s going to take us some time to rebuild confidence” with the Pakistani people, he said.

They have a fairly uphill task ahead. Check out the survey results:

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On a personal note, today’s Independence Day and last night the Jamaat-e-Islami activisits were roaming around the neighborhood I live in (in Karachi) with a loudspeaker in tow, imploring Pakistanis to rise up against US domination.

But so, if the Pakistanis disapprove of the US and President Obama and their own President Zardari, who do they appreciate?

265 30The military and the media top the list as positive influences on the country. More kudos for the military here and I suspect every channel CEO in the country will be going ‘ha-ha!’ to their detractors. However it only serves to highlight how important it is that the Pakistani media reports responsibly on internal affairs. The level of straight-out biases has become fairly ridiculous but if you do sift through the number of channels, magazines and newspapers, atleast Pakistanis have every sort of opinion available to them in the mainstream media. I’m a bit surprised at ‘religious leaders’ but what’s even more interesting is that the ISI is cited as a better influence than President Zardari. Given how much flak the ISI gets, when even Zardari is ranked lower, its something to think about.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

August 14, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Pakistan, Uncategorized

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Pakistan’s newest soap opera: ‘Dead or Alive’.

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What a strange few days this has been for Pakistan – days that have seen Pakistan develop into a brand-new soap opera called ‘Dead or Alive’. Over the past few days we have seen numerous reports confirming and denying that the commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, is dead. Its given everyone massive headaches and paranoia, to the point where we’d probably rather believe Pakistan’s spinoff of The Onion, Maila Times, instead.

Late Saturday evening, while I was typing out the below blogpost, news channels in Pakistan ran breaking news updates that a fight had broken out in the Taliban shoora meeting. Reports, including one by the state-run Pakistan Television, said that a gunbattle had taken place during the meeting between the supporters of Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman, both contenders for Mehsud’s spot.

Over 12 hours later, this still seems to be murky. There are various reports that both Hakimullah and Wali were killed, while Rehman Malik has said that he has heard one of them has died while other sources cite that Qari Hussain, responsible for orchestrating several suicide attacks, has also been injured in the fighting.

While the battle for power would have been bloody (a contender to Mehsud, Qari Zainuddin, was killed this June) there are so many divides in the TTP camp that exploiting them further would help a collapse. However, as Zainuddin’s death proves, this doesn’t always work.

So are they all dead or not? Pakistan awaits answers though don’t keep your fingers crossed to see their dead bodies being paraded on television since there is no official presence in Southern Waziristan. But does Mehsud’s death (?) mean that the Army will be launching an operation in southern Waziristan? I debated this yesterday before the Hakimuddin-Wali fight reports emerged.

Jason Burke in the Observer quoted Major-General ‘Atta’ Abbas* as saying:

“We are still waiting for full confirmation (of Mehsud’s death), and we will be reassessing the options for the resolution of the south Waziristan militant problem”.

Meanwhile, this soap opera-like saga has befuddled everyone. I’m quite cynical since I grew up watching soap operas and have seen all sorts of characters (albeit fictional) making a return back from the dead. It would be quite nice if someone could just issue a final confirmation or denial, for once and for all.

*I believe the Observer has made an error since the official spokesperson for the Army is Major-General Athar Abbas. I’ve emailed their desk but have received no answer as yet.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

August 9, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Pakistan

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