On Wednesday, the LA Times reported the most ridiculously absurd story about the Pakistani Taliban. According to the news agency, juice bars in Lahore have been bombed after claims by militants that they are “dens of immorality” because men and women can meet and talk to one another (oh my!). The LA Times wrote, “Attacks on fresh juice bars in Lahore late last year centered on the Garhi Shahu neighborhood,” where many Afghans and Uzbeks have settled. The owner of Dasko Juice told the Times, “Basically it’s just a place where girls and boys come and drink juice. These people try and portray us as immoral, but it’s not true. They’re just sitting and talking, but that’s a threat to them.”
The story conjured up many other examples of how Islamist militants have used their convoluted interpretation of Islam to overpower Pakistan – from the Lal Masjid “moral policewomen” wielding batons and publicly burning DVDs to the public flogging of young girls and banning of women from the marketplace in Swat. A recent poll by World Public Opinion.Org, though, shows that most Pakistanis disagree with such views. According to the poll, which surveyed 1,000 people across the country from May 17 – May 28, 2009 [margin of error is +/- 3.2%], 75% said they believe Sharia law allows women to work, [only 24% said this was not allowed under Islam]. An even larger 83% said Sharia permits girls’ schooling. In comparison, 81% of respondents felt the Pakistani Taliban, if they were allowed control over an area, would not allow women to work, while an equally overwhelming 81% believed they would not allow girls to go to school, [see the graph below].
The results above ultimately show that the majority of polled Pakistanis disagree with the Pakistani Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia. In fact, 81% now see the activities of the Taliban as a critical threat, compared to 34% of those polled in September 2007. Moreover, reported World Public Opinion, Pakistanis “show far less confidence in the potential for the Pakistani Taliban to govern effectively than they do for the government,” [for example, 56% felt the government would provide timely and effective justice in the courts, versus the 14% who chose the Taliban]. At the same time, the poll showed that many people also have low confidence in the government, [26% voted both/neither to the above question]. Therefore, although many Pakistanis don’t prescribe to the same brand of Sharia as the Taliban and most feel they don’t have the competence to govern, this does not necessarily mean they feel the government will do a better job in its wake. The state must therefore work to not only instill confidence in the public, but improve governance all together.
I went to an event yesterday where World Public Opinion’s Clay Ramsay presented these findings and RAND Corporation’s Christine Fair and Brookings’ Stephen Cohen commented on the results. Fair also provided a provincial breakdown of the results, but noted that in Pakistan, “there is more variation within provinces than between provinces.” She also related several anecdotes from when she trained the enumerators in Pakistan [those who carried out the 1,000 face-to-face interviews for the survey]. Her and her colleague’s goal, she said, was to eliminate the “don’t knows” that often crop up in survey results, especially with questions related to Al Qaeda. According to Fair, most enumerators didn’t even know what Al Qaeda was, [one woman in a training even thought it was a group associated with Hamid Karzai's government] so the training of the enumerators was important in order for them could to properly communicate questions to the respondents.
Fair’s talk was significant because she contextualized the results of the World Public Opinion findings, noting the survey was taken [May 2009] soon after Taliban militants had moved into Buner, just 60 miles from the capital. She said the development ultimately changed the view of people in Pakistan, especially the NWFP and Punjab, and more began to view the Taliban as a critical threat. The survey, therefore, was a reflection of this evolving sentiment, with most supporting the military’s campaign against the militants, [see below chart].
In a related email exchange with Fair, she indicated to me that the World Public Opinion sample was not drawn to be statistically representative at the provincial level, [a new poll, which will survey 6000 people, she said, should be more reliable in shedding light on these inter-provincial differences]. She noted the inter-provincial differences she discussed in her talk “were not meant to dilate upon any point estimate in particular, rather to remind folks that we can’t think of “Pakistani public opinion” because there are many publics.”
The issue of Pakistani public opinion was also raised by Stephen Cohen, who felt that there is no such thing as “Pakistani public opinion,” a point that I feel is important to debate on this forum. Do you think a national Pakistani identity exists, or is it something created or forced by these polls? And, if you don’t agree, are identities formed in Pakistan along provincial lines? In terms of young Pakistanis, do you think that new media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs can be instrumental in forming nationalist sentiment?