By Naween A. Mangi and Farhan Sharif
Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) — Pakistani talk show host Waheed Hussain interrupted a guest discussing the U.S.-led Friends of Democratic Pakistan, which had pledged $5.3 billion in aid to the nation. “You mean foes of Pakistan,” Hussain said.
In the same Oct. 8 Waqt News program, Hussain stopped another guest who was talking about a bill by U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid, subject to curbs including an end to army support for terrorists.
“It’s ‘looter,’ not Lugar,” Hussain said. “American forces want to keep the army under pressure with the conditions and appease India.”
Talk shows are fanning anti-American sentiment as terrorist violence grows and the U.S. increases drone attacks on militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Distrust of the U.S. may undermine a recent shift in public opinion in favor of the military, which is battling Islamic extremists in such assaults as the one on the Taliban’s northwest base starting Oct. 16.
An August survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed that 64 percent of Pakistanis regard the U.S. as an enemy. A poll released Oct. 2 by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland shows 90 percent of Pakistanis think the U.S. abuses its power, the highest among the 22 countries surveyed.
The talk shows may undermine U.S. efforts to fight terrorism in the region. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, has been a key ally for America’s $200 billion war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Encircle and Squeeze
The programs “have become the primary sites for rabid anti-Americanism on television,” said Ayesha Jalal, a professor of history at Medford, Massachusetts-based Tufts University. “The overwhelming reason is the American presence in Afghanistan, which, together with Washington’s flourishing relationship with India, is seen as a ruse to encircle and squeeze Pakistan.”
Kashif Abbasi, a talk-show host for ARY News, said in an Oct. 8 program: “The U.S. administration, in order to implement its agenda in the world, has been supporting dictators through history.”
Hamid Mir’s show on GEO television, in a discussion on U.S. aid to Pakistan, ran a banner at the top of the screen that read: “Another form of slavery.”
Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan could “ultimately jeopardize the U.S. ability to partner with Pakistan effectively,” said Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “There is strong sentiment in Pakistan that the U.S. is fickle and untrustworthy.”
It risks weakening a public relations shift in favor of the Pakistan military as it battles militant groups. Recent suicide bombings and gun attacks, closely covered by television networks, led the popular GEO news channel to change the colors of its orange-and-blue logo to green-and-brown army camouflage. It also broadcasts inspirational messages about how Pakistani soldiers are sure to defeat the terrorists.
The Pew survey showed 70 percent of Pakistanis rate the Taliban unfavorably, compared with 33 percent a year ago. Since Oct. 10 guerrillas have attacked the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, carried out commando-style raids on police stations in Lahore and bombed an Islamabad university.
Since President Barack Obama took office nine months ago, there have been 39 attacks in Pakistan using drones, or unmanned aircraft, Reuters reported on Oct. 12, compared with 32 in 2008. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said in June at least 528 civilians had been killed in drone attacks, without giving a time period. The U.S. has given Pakistan $10 billion in aid since 2001.
Missiles and Dollars
“There is hatred for the U.S. among the people and the media portrays that picture realistically,” said Shabbir Ali, a 22-year-old student at Urdu University in Karachi. “Do you expect people to love you when you throw missiles on their homes and give a few dollars in exchange?”
The leader of Pakistan’s Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone attack in August, according to the U.S. government. His successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, has said his death would be avenged with bombings in major cities.
Pakistan’s government has issued 82 licenses for satellite television channels since 2002, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in Islamabad, of which 65 are operative. They have taken programming to rural areas where 70 percent of the population lives.
“If you want to sell your product, your television, even yourself in this market, you have to be anti-American,” said Sarfaraz Ahmed, a newspaper editor in Karachi.
Television is the main source of information for 78 percent of Pakistanis, compared with 7 percent for newspapers and 3 percent for the Internet, according to an August poll by the Washington-based International Republican Institute. Eighty percent of Pakistanis said television is a credible source of information, compared with 55 percent for newspapers.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira didn’t respond to written questions or requests for an interview.
“Our media is expressing the views of the public like the media elsewhere in the world does,” said Shahid Masood, who hosts a show on GEO Television from Dubai. “Sometimes it goes a little far.”