The US “war on terror” has failed to weaken its prime target, al-Qaeda, according to people in 22 out of 23 countries surveyed in a new poll for the BBC World Service. On average only 22% believe that al-Qaeda has been weakened, while three in five believe that it has either had no effect (29%) or made al-Qaeda stronger (30%). And while negative views of al-Qaeda are most common in nearly all of the countries surveyed, this is not the case in Egypt and Pakistan – both pivotal nations in the conflict with al-Qaeda.
In both of these countries far more have either mixed or positive feelings towards al-Qaeda (Egypt 40% mixed and 20% positive, Pakistan 22% mixed and 19% positive) than have negative feelings (Egypt 35%, Pakistan 19%). Asked who is winning “the conflict between al-Qaeda and the United States”, the predominant view of those polled is that neither the US nor al-Qaeda is winning, with 15 countries holding this view.
In three countries – Kenya, Nigeria and Turkey – the dominant view is that the US is winning. In no country does more than one in five – 21% in Pakistan – believe that al-Qaeda is winning. Views are divided in other countries.
On average across all 23 countries just 10% think al-Qaeda is winning, 22% think the US is winning, and 47% think neither side is winning. Even in the United States only 34% believe al-Qaeda has been weakened.
Fifty-nine per cent, according to the poll, believe the “war on terror” has either had no effect (26%) or has made al-Qaeda stronger (33%). Meanwhile, 56% believe neither side is winning the conflict; 31% believe that the United States is winning; 8% believe al-Qaeda is winning.
On average 61% of those in countries surveyed say their feelings about al-Qaeda are negative, 8% say they are positive and 18% say they are mixed.
“Despite its overwhelming military power, America’s war against al-Qaeda is widely seen as having achieved nothing better than a stalemate and many believe that it has even strengthened al-Qaeda,” comments Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes. GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller added: “The fact that so many people in Egypt and Pakistan have mixed or even positive views of al-Qaeda is yet another indicator that the US war on terror is not winning hearts and minds.”
The results are drawn from a survey of 23,937 adult citizens across 23 countries conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork between 8 July and 12 September 2008.