Foreign Policy Blogs

New Public Opinion Poll Shows Decreased Support for Political Institutions in Pakistan

The latest Pew Research Center public opinion poll shows that the Pakistani people continue to hold the U.S in astonishingly low regard.

However, one sliver of good news, for American interests, is that since the May 2nd Navy Seal operation that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, U.S support in Pakistan has not fallen further: the U.S remains viewed as an enemy to Pakistan by roughly 70% of the population.  Less than 10% of the population views the U.S favorably. These numbers have been static for sometime now. Nevertheless the rest of the data are not promising though there remains a groundswell of support for the Pakistani military, whatever its recent blunders.

The new data polled in the months of April and May, show that fewer than a tenth of the population approves of U.S. presence and participation in U.S politics. Indeed, the latest poll numbers show not only dwindling and ever-diminshing support for U.S moves in Afghanistan, but also show plunging support for every institution in Pakistan. Moreover, the data show that Pakistanis are less inclined to use the military against insurgent groups.  Nine out of ten Pakistanis disapprove of the direction they think the country is heading.  These are staggering numbers and would spell doom to any government, were there a standby set of institutions and parties to pick up the slack and provide renewed and able-bodied leadership.

Consider, whatever the absolute value of the numbers that constitute the data, the downward change in those numbers are politically bewildering. Consider that the formerly popular Prime Minisiter Yousuf Rana Gilani used to enjoy 59% support in 2010.  That metric has now plummeted to 39% support within the population.  The deeply unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari–the widow of the popular leader of the PPP and a former Prime Minister, twice over, Benazir Bhutto– has an approval rating of 11%, down from a meager 20% last year.

The data show that the Pakistani public is less than sanguine about its puttering institution–that is, save the military which still enjoys majority support at around 70%-but it seems only for competency.  This by itself may stand for little: it is not difficult to be the winning candidate for majority if and when every other candidate for that support shows itself to be incompetent and corrupt in a way that the public at large cannot withstand.  However, military chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani enjoys broad support at 52% favorability rating among Pakistanis. Nevertheless, there is evidence that since the May 2nd raid on the compound in Abottobad, General Kayani has lost some support among the Pakistani people: the 52% favorability polled dropped from an April, pre-raid, favorability of 57%.

In the meantime fewer Pakistanis think that insurgent groups threaten Pakistan itself: In 2009, 69% of Pakistanis expressed concern that the Taliban and other associated groups posed a fundamentally existential threat to Pakistan. The latest data show that only 55% of Pakistanis hold that opinion now.

This suggests that even while support and value for Pakistani political institutions have eroded, Pakistanis are less concerned with insurgent activity in their towns and cities.  They are much more concerned about unemployment, food price inflation and other important quality of life issues.  In the meantime, the Pakistani military which effectively owns a large share of the economy still enjoys broadly popular support.

However, the high-ranking military brass have had to eat more than their share of humble pie since the May 2nd Navy Seal led moves in the cantonment city of Abottabad.  Consider, that many analysts believe that lower ranking officers in the military are at least indifferent about insurgent activity by way of their deeply rooted  (though perhaps broadly justifiable) anti-American sentiments.

Given the data, then, it is hard to push off the sneaking suspicion that Pakistan is now ripe for another military coup, this time from the lower ranks of the military.  Given the widespread public unrest and discontent, the public might not be disheartened were there an effort to re-assert military rule on every aspect of Pakistani life.

Still, there remains one slice of solace for democrats in Pakisitan: not even the military wants to own the political, economic basket case at large that is Pakistan.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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