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Pakistan likes Al Qaeda more than America

The US is in the middle of a $7.5 billion aid program to Pakistan. But America's image is slipping in the country, where its unfavorable rating is almost as bad as the Taliban's and even Al Qaeda is more popular.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / July 30, 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi hold talks in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 19. Clinton sought to convince skeptical Pakistanis that American interest in their country extends beyond the fight against Islamist militants by announcing a raft of new aid projects.

Adrees Latif/AP

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Lahore, Pakistan

The Pakistan Taliban may be responsible for attacks that have killed more than 1,000 civilians this year. The US may be in the midst of providing the country with $7.5 billion in aid. But average Pakistanis like the United States less than Al Qaeda and just a little more than the Taliban.

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Roughly 17 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the US in a new poll by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, while 59 percent described the US as an "enemy" of Pakistan. The Taliban's numbers? About 15 percent view the group favorably (up from 10 percent a year ago). Al Qaeda pips both groups, with 18 percent of Pakistanis viewing the group favorably, up from 9 percent a year ago.

The survey was conducted among 2,000 Pakistanis from April 13-28, 2010.

The findings are likely to add more fuel to the domestic debate over whether American largess is advancing US interests in the region. A vast trove of United States government documents released by the website Wikileaks this week added more evidence for the belief that Pakistan supports the Taliban inside Afghanistan, leaving many Americans wondering if some of the aid to Pakistan isn't ending up in the hands of Taliban operatives trying to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. Capturing the mood, influential US humorist Jon Stewart said this week: "We have ostensibly put a hit out on ourselves. This is insanity."

In Pakistan, opposition to conditions attached to the $7.5 billion aid package and ongoing concern about civilian causalities in US drone strikes aimed at Al Qaeda leaders are major factors fueling anti-Americanism, says Christine Fair, a political scientist at Georgetown University.

Blaming Blackwater, India

A surge of conspiracy theories that absolve the Taliban for recent sectarian attacks and instead blame outside forces may help explain the decreased perception of a threat from the Taliban.

“The narrative is these attacks are being carried out by India or Blackwater,” says Professor Fair, referring to the controversial US security contractor now known as Xe. And ordinary Pakistanis are dismayed by what they see as increasingly close US ties with rival India. About 53 percent of Pakistanis described India as the greatest threat to the country, while 23 percent see the Taliban as the greatest threat.

In the Main Market shopping area of Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural hub, traders and shoppers are almost unanimous in voicing dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.

“What kind of friends are the Americans? They are our false friends and in reality are trying to tear us apart. That’s why they are maintaining good relations with India who back the Taliban, while at the same time giving our leaders money to fight the Taliban,” says Muhammad Yousuf, a retired shopkeeper, while sipping tea after Friday prayers.

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