Aniq Zafar: Punjab and anti-US sentiment

This article appeared in The News on August 1, 2010

The latest PEW research institute’s survey on the attitudes in Pakistan has brought out some very interesting facts that reflect the difference of world view that the support base of PML-N voters has with the rest of the country.

The survey has found out that while there is till a very high number of Pakistanis that see US as an enemy, anti-US feelings are strongest in Punjab and among PML-N supporters.

About six-in-ten Pakistanis (59%) see the US as an enemy of their country that has been down from 64% in 2009. Only 11% now consider the US as a partner and 16% say it is neither a partner nor an enemy.

In a nation like ours where politicians and media both have only tried to strengthen already held perceptions in order to

gain votes or win media ratings this is nothing surprising. Hardly there is any attempt to educate people with facts and most perceptions are built through drawing room conspiracy theories and outlandish claims.

What should worry educated and well-informed Pakistanis is the figures that come out of Punjab in such surveys. Those who live in Punjab are far more likely than those in other regions to consider the US as an enemy of Pakistan; about sixty-nine (69%) in that province express this opinion, compared with 52% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 40% in Sindh.

Interestingly the view that the US is an enemy of Pakistan is also much more prevalent among Pakistanis who are affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) than among those in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). About seven-in-ten (72%) in the PML-N, Pakistan’s opposition party, consider the US an enemy; just 9% say it is a partner and 12% say it is neither. While fewer than half (46%) in the PPP see the US as an enemy, 15% consider it a partner and 21% say it is neither.

Punjab is the largest province of the country hence it has very large presence too in the country’s institutions that wield power. Additionally Punjab’s middle class that forms the vote bank for PML-N holds a very negative view of the US. The Pew survey findings thus are very important indicator showing that PML-N, a party that hopes to win the right to govern the country in the future, has a vote base that is anti-US. We have witnessed in the past that such sentiments have often only succeeded in isolating Pakistan as a country. The cost of isolation in the modern world is manifold though romantics often project isolationist states as a role model. Rarely an insight into the suppression and economic plight of the common citizens in such states is focused in the narrative developed by romantics. This very narrative also has used nuclear chest thumping as away of raising national sentiment and then a byproduct of this emotionalism has acted as an apologist argument for the terrorist.

The most worrisome aspect of the survey findings is that Punjab has a very divergent worldview than the rest of Pakistan. There is very wide gap between Punjab and Sindh when it comes to their looking at USA and by extension to the developed world. Mostly such surveys have a heavy representation of the urban centers. Punjab’s urban centers are dominated by middle class trading communities. It is then no wonder that PML-N finds it difficult to articulate its policy on terrorism. Although sometimes the top leadership tries to make right noises on the question of terrorism, its parliamentarians often express views that exactly are reflective of their support base.

It is also interesting to note that currently PML-N does not enjoy any close relationship with any representative party of the smaller provinces. The PML-N’s policy on terrorism is one of the major reasons for its distance from other parties that have a very bold and open stance on the issue. What should worry PML-N is that as it

pushes for more active role in any future governance setup it has to understand that it cannot

govern the country merely on a majority won in Punjab’s urban centers.

The worldview that is held by majority of Pakistanis (represented by Punjab’s heavy presence in any sample size) will ultimately start influencing the state’s relationship with the outside world and that in turn will lead us to isolation. If the rest of the provinces of the country did not agree to such isolationism and its cost then there will be an unbridgeable gap between Punjab and the rest of the Pakistan. Last time Punjab had gone its own way in determining the course of the state and its institutions and we had witnessed the debacle of 1971. Then the media and political

classes of Punjab had erred in sensing the sentiments of the Bengalis and the smaller provinces and we could not handle the resulting chaos.

Can we in Punjab be more sensible in our worldview or we would continue to drag the state to troubled waters?

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