In a recent worldwide survey by the BBC, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel were ranked most negatively by those interviewed. Given the widespread concerns that Iran has evoked in the Western world, and its isolation in a Sunni-dominated neighbourhood, it was not surprising that it enjoyed pride of place in negativity across the world. Given the belligerence and the quest of its much-reviled leadership for nuclear weapons, even as the bulk of its people face starvation and malnutrition, North Korea is inevitably regarded as an international outcast. Moreover, the poll has shocked people in Israel who are finding that even in the US, barely 50 per cent of the people now support its policies and the majority of those surveyed across Europe, including in Germany, France, UK and Spain, view the Jewish state negatively.
Pakistan was rated “mostly negative” by 51 per cent of the respondents, getting placed just above Iran, which has a negative rating of 55 per cent. The survey revealed that the substantially negative view of Pakistan was found mostly in Western countries. Around 75 per cent of Americans, 69 per cent of Canadians and 72 per cent of Australians said Pakistan’s influence in the world is “mostly negative”. This perception is overwhelmingly shared across Europe. What is it that has led to a change in perceptions in the Western world of a country which has been seen as an “ally” since the last six decades and was recently rechristened by General Colin Powell as America’s “major non-NATO ally”?
The world was shocked after the revelation last year that the globally most-wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, had been found and killed in Abbottabad, and subsequent disclosures that Pakistan had become the epicentre of global terrorism. It is common knowledge now that every conceivable terrorist group, from the al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, is operating with ISI support, from Pakistani safe havens. If the US and its NATO allies bristle at what Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan, the Saudi monarchy has been shocked by the realisation that its public enemy No. 1, Laden, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have been recipients of ISI hospitality and support. Even China, Pakistan’s unshakeable friend, has voiced concern and criticism of Pakistan-based groups spreading religious extremism and separatism in its Muslim-dominated Xinjiang Province.
Despite these developments, it would be unwise for India to believe that Pakistan will not recover from its present ostracised status. China will continue to provide it military assistance, primarily to contain India. And the US and its NATO allies are all too ready to extend economic and military assistance, if Pakistan shows some signs of becoming more cooperative in their “global war on terror”. Finally, Pakistan will be seen as an important nuclear ally of the Sunni-dominated Arab world, should the clerical Shia-dominated regime Iran acquire a credible nuclear capability. Moreover, we should take note of the fact that the BBC survey reveals that while 50 per cent of those surveyed regarded China as “mainly positive,” this view was held by only 40 per cent with regard to India..
Quite obviously, large numbers of those surveyed have been impressed by China’s economic progress and abilities to invest in the progress of others. With over 300 million people living below the poverty line and poor human development indices in crucial areas like health, literacy and life expectancy, India has much to do before it can rise to the position China enjoys. This, despite the fact that while India’s democratic institutions are widely respected internationally, there are widespread misgivings about China’s authoritarian governance. In an ultimate analysis, perceptions about countries are largely determined by the economic well-being of their people and their ability to contribute to global prosperity. Japan and Germany, defeated in World War II, today find themselves as the most positively viewed countries across the world.
;The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own