Most Pakistanis think US did NOT kill bin Laden

Peter KellnerPresident
May 16, 2011, 3:43 AM GMT+0

The United States has little credibility among Pakistanis, according to a YouGov survey conducted last week in Pakistan. Only one Pakistani in six polled by YouGov thinks US forces killed Osama bin Laden in their action in Abbottabad; three-quarters think that, if it was bin Laden, he should have been given a Muslim burial on land, rather than buried at sea; and 52% fear that Pakistan is now more at risk from attacks by Al Qaeda.

YouGov surveyed 1,039 Pakistanis online last Wednesday and Thursday. Our sample was younger, more male and undoubtedly better educated and better off than the population as a whole. The data in our tables is unweighted. However, the differences by age and gender are modest, so weighting by these demographics (if reliable information were available) would make little differences to the overall percentages, and none to the broad conclusions. If anything, the probable education and wealth bias means that, if anything, our data is likely to understate the level of resentment in Pakistan towards the US.

The views of Pakistanis towards the US action in Abbottabad are shaped by their attitudes towards the 9/11 attacks in America. Only 16% regard these as ‘a criminal, terrorist action organized by Al Qaeda and authorized by Osama bin Laden’. Three times as many (46%) think ‘Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda had nothing to do with these attacks’. A further 6% say bin Laden did authorize the attacks ‘as part of a justified war against American values and imperialism’. One third of respondents said they either didn’t know or preferred not to say.

In the light of those figures, we should not be surprised that 75% of respondents disapprove of what the US forces did last week. Opinions are divided on Pakistan’s role. 53% think the country’s military helped the Americans; and this group divides almost equally between those who think Pakistan was right to help and those who think the country’s military was wrong to do so.

Just 9% support America’s decision to bury bin Laden’s body at sea, in order ‘not to leave a shrine’ to him; 75% think he should have been given a Muslim burial on land. A similar majority thinks ‘the US government does not respect Islam and considers itself at war with the Muslim world’. Only 11% accept President Obama’s argument that the US respects Islam and wants good relations with Muslim countries. (Barack Obama’s name was not mentioned in this question: we sought reactions to the issue, uncoloured by attitudes to the US President himself.)

It’s not that most Pakistanis approve of bin Laden – though a large minority do so. 48% agree that he ‘was not a true Muslim leader’, while 31% disagree. Just over a third (35%) agree ‘he was a mass murderer of Muslims’; the same number believe he waged war on Pakistan as well. In both cases, more – though less than 50% – disagree.

Pakistanis are also divided on their views of the Taliban. We offered four statements and asked respondents which best described their own view:

I support the Taliban as they have a just cause and are right to fight for control of Afghanistan: 11%

I have some sympathy with the Taliban but they should use political means, not violence, to pursue their cause: 23%


I do not support the Taliban. But they represent views that should be respected and should play some part in Afghanistan’s future: 28%

I am completely opposed to the Taliban and hope they are crushed militarily and politically: 21%


Don’t know / prefer not to say: 18%

15% of respondents think at least some senior Pakistani senior officers support the Taliban; 59% think ‘just a few’ or none of them do so.

Half of our sample (49%) think ‘Pakistan should use every means at its disposal to push [the Taliban] out of Pakistan’, while 31% take a different view, ranging from leaving them alone as long as they stay near the Afghan border (18%) to supporting them, either with non-military supplies such as food and medicine (10%) or backing them wholeheartedly with arms and ammunition (just 3%).

As for other policies of the Pakistan government, clear majorities…

  • AGREE with the country producing its own nuclear weapons (81%)
  • DISAGREE with allowing US drone attacks on militant groups (86%)
  • DISAGREE with the country accepting economic aid from the US (70%)

To repeat: ours is an online sample. It is inevitably far from perfect. It should be regarded as the least imperfect assessment of Pakistani opinion available. Had a question produced, say, a 60-40% majority for a particular view, I would caution against regarding this as indisputable evidence that most Pakistanis back this view. But most of the questions produced responses so overwhelming, and so similar when analysed by age and gender, that the mood of most Pakistanis is clear; and that mood should cause great concern to both the country’s leaders and to the United States.