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Declassified US survey finds 47% respondents in Pakistan favour State backing of Kashmiri militants in India

New Delhi: After Indian Air Force airstrike on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps deep inside Pakistan, the message behind Pakistan's hurried call for the National Security Committee meeting was that 'Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing.' It makes one thing clear that Pakistan may not respond militarily and most likely go back to its old tactic of using proxy army of terrorists. A section within the Pakistani leadership is raking up the Kashmir issue and social media is abuzz with various narratives on Indian Army and central armed forces presence in the Valley.

Few months after 2001 Parliament attack, US State Department conducted a survey within Pakistan in 2002 to understand whether common Pakistanis support terrorists in Kashmir. The results were shocking. Plurality favored continued support for Kashmiri militants and even felt that assisting terrorists in Kashmir was more important than any benefits that could be gained from closer ties with India. The survey was commissioned by US state department to a reputable local research firm which targeted 2,058 urban Pakistanis in March-April 2002 in 10 major cities. The questions were prepared by State department's office of research. The findings were intended for American government use only, and not for publication. The 28-page report was declassified last year.

"The public still predominantly thinks that Pakistan's backing the militants 'fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir benefits Pakistani national interest (47 percent versus 21 percent) and that supporting those militants will help efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute," report said.

 Declassified US survey finds 47% respondents in Pakistan favour State backing of Kashmiri militants in India

Representational image. PTI

However, it added that public support for militants was on a decline after the 13 December Parliament attack as in an another survey done in September 2001, around 77 percent supported Pak government backing the terrorists.

After Pulwama attack, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed his country is the greatest victim of terrorism. Such statements were repeated quite often by his predecessors to argue that they never allowed the territory to be used by terror groups targeting India. However, Pakistan's policy of terming terrorism and those fighting in Kashmir or Afghanistan as good guys and others targeting Pakistan's oppressive regime considered as bad is the reason why even after more than 16 years of the US survey, Jaish-e-Mohammed's chief and most wanted terrorist Masood Azhar is just an Islamic preacher for the Pakistani state.

In November 2004, US government did another survey among urban Pakistanis in 10 major cities to figure out whether they supported the then President Pervez Musharraf's anti-terror policies. A majority of them supported Musharraf's policy since terrorists had turned their guns inside Pakistan, claimed the 14-page report. In May-June 2002 survey, majority of Pakistanis felt that International anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan was "an excuse to fight against Muslims and Islam rather than an effort to prevent terrorist attacks."

"The poll suggests that the increase in support for Musharraf's anti-terrorism policies probably largely reflects the public's mounting concern with the increase in incidents of domestic terrorism inside Pakistan during the past year. Those supporting Musharraf's decision to back the anti-terrorism coalition most often said it would help to eliminate terrorism (41 percent) with about half that many (22 percent) saying that backing the US anti-terrorism coalition would help in maintaining law and order in Pakistan.

Recent terrorist incidents which may have fuelled the public's increased support for Musharraf's anti-terrorism stance included a "car bombing in Multan that killed 40 people and wounded at least 100 in early October 2004, a few weeks before the poll went into the field, and the attempts earlier in the year against the lives of both the President and the new Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz," report said.

In the 2002 survey, nearly 90 percent Pakistanis called ties with India poor and 78 percent said that it had worsened since past six months. The majority 57 percent believed it was unlikely that a war will break out between and Pakistan, however, if such a war were to erupt, the majority 61 percent believed it could escalate into a nuclear war. Despite the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's peace overture and extraordinary effort to maintain peace, a large chunk of  83 percent respondents expressed poor opinion of the Indian prime minister. Survey report said Pakistani public confidence in India as a regional partner is almost non-existent. The dislike for America was also evident in the survey result as majority claims to lack confidence in the US to deal responsibly with the problems in their region. And, that is why Pakistanis considered China as a best friend.

"China and Saudi Arabia remain the countries with which Pakistanis think their own country has the closest international bonds. They most often name China (72 percent) as Pakistan's 'best friend', with Saudi Arabia a very distant second (10 percent), as they have in polls since fall of 2000. India, of course, scores the lowest for both good ties and on ability to deal responsibly with regional problems," report claimed.

In another survey conducted months later in July-August 2002, the Americans found urban Pakistanis widely (87 percent) sympathetic towards separatists fighting in Kashmir and they believed that their government's official support to Kashmiri militants benefits Pakistan's national interests. Most urban Pakistanis either deny that they were responsible for planning and carrying out the recent attacks in India and Kashmir (44 percent) or say they don't know (33 percent); only about one-in-five (22 percent) believe Pakistan-based militants were involved.

The survey said that the better educated Pakistanis supported the ban on terror outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba and were in support of taking steps to stop militants from infiltrating across the Line of Control to launch attacks in Kashmir. Survey also revealed that better educated Pakistanis believed that cross-border terrorism by Pakistan-based terror outfits will not help Kashmiri cause. It said: "The plurality believes that militant attacks on civilian targets such as 13 December attack on the Indian Parliament are morally unjustifiable."

"There is, however, somewhat more agreement on the best method for resolving the conflict. Urban Pakistanis are more likely to mention dialogue (36 percent) than war (10 percent) when asked about how the Kashmir dispute can be best resolved, with a few others suggesting that Kashmir be made an independent state (7 percent) that a referendum be held (6 percent) or that the UN intervene (3 percent). Moreover, the majority (69 percent) favors a resumption of the dialogue with India in order to resolve bilateral differences.

One factors motivating the public preference for dialogue instead of war is most likely the fear, expressed by the majority (62 percent) that if a war does break out with India, it will probably go nuclear. "That would be a war Pakistan would have little chance of winning," US State Department report said.

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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 09:41:43 IST

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