Is Pakistan an enemy of the United States? For the past two years, the Obama administration has doggedly maintained that the South Asian nation remains a vital American ally, even as it has grappled with what it itself admits is a "complicated" relationship.
The fiction of Pakistan's friendship, however, is becoming exceedingly hard to maintain, most of all because Pakistanis themselves don't believe it. The latest poll of Pakistani public opinion carried out by the Pew Global Attitudes Project , for example, has found that attitudes toward America - already profoundly negative - have declined still further. To wit, just eight percent of Pakistanis now see the United States as a partner, while nearly three-quarters (74 percent) view it as an enemy. Back in 2009, 64 percent of those surveyed did. Similarly, America's favorability rating, already low, has continued to deteriorate; from 16 percent in 2009 to 12 percent today.
These statistics speak volumes about the true state of relations between the United States and its most troublesome South Asian partner. So does Pakistan's own view of its geopolitical position. In the latest Pew poll, only 45 percent of respondents said it was important to improve ties with the U.S.-down from the 60 percent that held such a view just last year. Pakistan's population, in other words, is increasingly thinking beyond partnership with the United States.
This is perhaps most pronounced on the counterterrorism front. Back in 2009, 72 percent of Pakistanis supported U.S. financial and humanitarian support for their government's fight against Islamic extremists, and 63 percent supported American aid on intelligence and logistical matters as well. Today, by contrast, only half of all Pakistanis approve of U.S. economic and humanitarian aid, and just a third (37 percent) supports intel sharing and coordination.
As for military assistance, the numbers are even worse. Counterterrorism combat operations (carried out through special forces deployments or-increasingly-via drone strikes) have never been popular with Pakistanis, who have tended to view them as an unacceptable encroachment on their national sovereignty. When surveyed by Pew in 2010, less than a quarter (23 percent) of those polled supported such forceful intervention. And a series of Coalition missteps over the past two years has soured the Pakistani public on U.S. military action still further. This includes a tragic November 2011 operation by NATO forces in northwest Pakistan that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, precipitating a fundamental political rupture and causing the country to close its borders to the Coalition. Ill-will still prevails; less than a fifth of Pakistanis (17 percent) now support U.S. military operations on their soil, despite the persistence of Islamic extremists in their country's unruly border regions.