ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Domestic support for the Pakistani military’s campaign against Islamist militant groups has waned in recent years, a poll by a U.S. group has found, showing deep-rooted opposition among the Pakistani public to the United States.
The findings of two Pew Research Center surveys will be disappointing for the United States, which wants its ally to deal forcefully with militants, particularly those fighting U.S.-led foreign forces across the border in Afghanistan who take refuge in northwestern Pakistani border enclaves.
The survey of 3,221 Pakistanis found that just 37 percent of them supported using the army to fight militants, which was 16 percent lower than two years ago, according to Pew.
The surveys also showed that most Pakistanis — 63 percent — disapproved of the secret U.S. raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden, with 55 percent describing it as a “bad thing.”
It was not clear if the respondents disapproved of the killing of the al Qaeda leader, who has not been popular in the country in recent years, or the secret U.S. raid which many people saw as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Only 12 percent of respondents had a positive view of the United States and only 8 percent had confidence in President Barack Obama “to do the right thing in world affairs,” Pew said.
“Most Pakistanis see the United States as an enemy, consider it a potential military threat and oppose American-led anti-terrorism efforts,” Pew said.
The overwhelming rejection of U.S. goals and efforts in the region puts Pakistan’s U.S.-allied government and military in a difficult position in trying to please its people while working with the United States.
Although Pakistan said the death of bin Laden was a positive step in the battle against militancy, his killing by U.S. Navy SEALs in his Pakistani hideout seriously damaged already strained ties between the uneasy allies.
After the raid, the Pakistan army cut back the number of U.S. troops stationed in the country and ended their role in training Pakistani soldiers involved in fighting militants.
The Pakistan military also faced rare criticism at home for its failure to discover that the al Qaeda chief had been living in the country, apparently undetected, for years.
But Pew said despite criticism after the bin Laden raid, the military remained “overwhelmingly popular,” with 79 percent of respondents saying it had a good influence on the country.
The ratings for military chief General Ashfaq Kayani saw a slight decrease after the bin Laden raid with 52 percent of people favorable and 21 percent unfavorable.
Previously, Kayani was viewed positively by 57 percent, with 18 percent seeing him in a negative light.
Militants have stepped up attacks in recent weeks to avenge bin Laden’s killing.
Pew said 55 percent of people surveyed were “very or somewhat worried” that the militants might take over Pakistan, though that fear was down from 69 percent two years ago.
Still, 63 percent considered Islamic extremism a problem although that was a decline from two years ago, when 79 percent said they were worried.
Views of al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban as threats have fluctuated over the years.
In 2009, 61 percent of Pakistanis viewed al Qaeda as a threat, dropping to 38 percent in 2010 and rising to 49 percent after bin Laden’s death. The Taliban were seen as a very serious threat by 73 percent in 2009, but that had dropped to 54 percent.
Worryingly for the United States, 26 percent of respondents saw the Taliban regaining control in Afghanistan as good for Pakistan while 21 percent said it would be bad.
In 2010, 18 percent believed it would be good for Pakistan.
Editing by Chris Allbritton and Robert Birsel