A survey of Pakistanis living near the worst-hit areas of 2005 earthquake finds enduring positive attitudes toward foreigners, including Americans.
Is all that foreign aid flowing into Pakistan in the aftermath of last month's massive floods changing the way Pakistanis feel about the West, and in particular the United States?
Public opinion surveys conducted in Pakistan in the past have suggested that the country's very low opinion of Westerners, and Americans in particular, doesn't improve much as a result of sudden foreign largess in response to a natural disaster.
But a new study plumbing the views of more than 28,000 households in 126 villages in the part of Pakistan devastated by a massive earthquake in 2005 finds that attitudes toward foreigners, including Americans, shifted significantly to the positive and in an enduring manner as a result of assistance from abroad.
"What we found is that trust in foreigners changes in response to action," says Tahir Andrabi, a political economist at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., who organized the study with Jishnu Das, a World Bank research economist. "The big picture from our work says that what you do on the ground as a country and a people really does matter."
Debate over the impact of foreign aid and what role it plays in improving America's image abroad has bubbled ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing national probing around the theme of "Why do they hate us?" Surveys showed that opinions of America improved sharply among Indonesians after significant US assistance flowed in following the 2004 tsunami. But similar polls in Pakistan suggested that minor improvements in America's rock-bottom image after the 2005 earthquake were soon lost.
Subsequent surveys of Pakistani opinion also have suggested no lasting improvement in views of the US and Americans. The question is resurfacing once again in the wake of the summer's centennial floods and the significant assistance the US has provided.
At a ministerial meeting at the United Nations in New York Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the US has provided about $345 million in what was initially rescue and emergency aid efforts and which has now shifted to relief and early recovery work. The American military was involved in the rescue of more than 15,000 people and in delivering more than 7 million pounds of food and other supplies, she said. …