(Feb. 12, 2011) The Pakistani public, long skeptical of American goals in Afghanistanand the Muslim world, is now outraged over Washington’s insistence that the authorities release a former United States Special Forces soldier charged with killing two Pakistani men last month. In this instance, as always,Pakistan’s tumultuous news media is the prism through whichUnited States policy is reflected to the people, who have found themselves at the center of America’s struggle against terrorism.
So far, the picture has not been pretty: theGeorge W. Bush administrationdemonized the Muslim news media; Muslim journalists returned the favor. But research shows that the Obama administration has the opportunity to take a more sophisticated approach to those who drive public opinion throughout the Islamic world.
Pakistan is a case in point: last year, we conducted a nationwide survey of 395 Pakistani journalists, supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. As the charts below show, our survey provided insight into where their beliefs and priorities intersect with American interests.
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of Pakistani journalists oppose United States military operations in their country and in Afghanistan. Still, as a group, they are not overtly anti-American — three-quarters have a favorable view of the American people and a majority believePresident Obamawhen he says he wants to withdraw troops from the region.
It may surprise most Americans to know that Afghanistan falls fairly low among issues Pakistani journalists believe are important. Rather, the priorities are education and domestic terrorism, followed by the economy and domestic political change. This overlaps nicely with the American “stones into schools” strategy that development is the antidote to militancy. Indeed, as the United States broadens its effort to win the hearts and minds of Muslims, it would do well to look into the heads of the journalists who shape opinions in those societies.