Colin Powell meets with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in Islamabad earlier this week
Newsweek Web Exclusive
updated 10/18/2001 12:06:45 PM ET 2001-10-18T16:06:45

Is the West winning the battle for Muslim hearts and minds? Not according to a poll commissioned by NEWSWEEK and conducted in Pakistan less than a week after the United States began bombing Afghanistan. Eighty-three percent of Pakistanis surveyed say they side with the Taliban, with a mere 3 percent expressing support for the United States. A large majority (82 percent) describe Osama bin Laden as a mujahedin (Islamic guerrilla), while only 6 percent call him a terrorist.

PAKISTAN is one of the few Muslim countries that allows scientific opinion polling. Polls are banned, for instance, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This survey’s methodology has been criticized by some U.S. polling groups, but the poll, conducted by Gallup International (not a division of The Gallup Organization, based in Princeton, N.J.), provides some sobering insights into the dangerous volatility of the country.

Almost half of Pakistanis (48 percent) believe that Israel is behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Twelve percent blame bin Laden; 25 percent say “some American group” is responsible for the assaults.

At the same time, 64 percent describe the attacks on the United States as terrorism rather than a jihad, and a slim majority (51 percent) say they agree with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s policy of cooperation with Washington. A total of 79 percent rate their president’s performance during the current conflict as OK (42 percent), good (20 percent) or very good (17 percent); a mere 21 percent called it bad or very bad.

One reason for these seemingly contradictory responses may be Pakistan’s complex relationship with neighboring Afghanistan. The presence of more than 2 million Afghan refugees who have fled to Pakistan during the past two decades—with more trying to seek shelter during the current conflict—creates local tension. And the Taliban’s severe brand of Islam is anathema even to fundamentalist Pakistanis, who represent only a small portion of the country’s 140 million population anyway. On the other hand, the Afghans are fellow Muslims, the country’s alliance with the Taliban goes back six years and anti-American feelings in Pakistan go back even farther.

Anti-American feelings may be heightened by the suspicion that the United States will begin military action in the disputed territory of Kashmir after completing its strikes in Afghanistan. In the NEWSWEEK poll, an overall majority say they either fear the chance of similar U.S. military actions in Kashmir—where renewed clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops took place this week—are very high (17 percent) or somewhat likely (42 percent). Those fears may also explain why 77 percent oppose giving permission to the United States for carrying out any commando action from Pakistani soil and 75 percent say America should not be given permission to use Pakistani airfields.

For the NEWSWEEK poll, Gallup International conducted face-to-face interviews with 978 Pakistani men and women in the country’s four provinces Oct. 11-12. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 to 4 percent.

© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2013 Newsweek, Inc.

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