Pakistan's Paranoid, Irresponsible Media Hampering Terror Fight

The Faisal Shahzad incident has again focused the spotlight on one of America’s oldest allies -- Pakistan. The Shahzad story has been covered from innumerable viewpoints, but an examination of the Times Square bombing attempt in light of present happenings in Pakistan deserves more thorough attention. How does Shahzad's action relate to the Pakistani national narrative regarding the U.S.? How does the narrative shape public opinion within this erstwhile American ally?

Shahzad’s radicalization is easier to understand alongside the ideas he absorbed while living in Pakistan.

According to the August 2009 Pew poll on Pakistani public opinion, 64% of the Pakistani public perceive the United States as an enemy. A majority of Pakistanis, 79%, were concerned about growing extremism in the country, and 70% had an unfavorable opinion of the Taliban. Yet 69% of Pakistanis saw their neighbor India as a greater threat than either the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

A November 2009 British Council report on Pakistan, "The Next Generation," showed that 72% of young Pakistanis define themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second.

This statistic, more than any other factor, should help us understand why ostensibly pro-American Pakistani leaders -- whether former President Musharraf or current President Asif Ali Zardari -- have not been able to follow through on their counterterror promises to the U.S. The debate within Pakistani society on radicalism and terror has not yet crystallized. Despite having suffered the blowback of terrorism for a long time, Pakistani public opinion is less negative regarding the terrorists than the U.S.

The Pakistani narrative about the United States follows this theme: Whereas Pakistan has been a true ally, the United States has over the years used and abandoned Pakistan. The refrain, often heard in Pakistan, that the current war against extremism is an "American war" and not a war for Pakistan’s survival, arises from this narrative. The current pro-Western Pakistani civilian government, led by Asif Ali Zardari, has tried to help the Americans by fighting extremists, but residual anti-Americanism holds the nation back.