That Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino, Calif. attackers, was a Pakistani woman has renewed U.S. concern about that country. Many in Pakistan are embarrassed. After all, she had a degree in pharmacy from Bahauddin Zakariya University. That’s a mainstream public institution in Multan, a medium-sized city in Pakistan’s heartland. What does her act say about the country and its people?
Not a lot, it turns out.
As a whole, Pakistanis overwhelmingly condemn violent jihad
In the 2013 Pew Global Attitudes poll — a survey with 1,201 respondents, conducted countrywide except in the most insecure areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan — 91 percent of respondents said violent jihad was rarely or never justified. Only 4 percent said it was justified; 5 percent did not respond.
Most Pakistanis disapprove of violence in the name of jihad
The 2013 survey asked respondents about both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban (the TTP, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan). The TTP has killed thousands of Pakistanis over the last few years. It killed more than 130 schoolchildren in a single attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar a year ago.
The poll was conducted before the Islamic State became a known terror group, so respondents were not asked about it. And it was conducted more than a year before the Peshawar school attack last year that hardened Pakistani views against the Pakistan Taliban.
Even so, in 2013, a majority or near majority thought unfavorably of the Pakistan Taliban and the Afghan Taliban – 56 percent and 47 percent respectively. Seventeen percent thought favorably of the Pakistan Taliban; 12 percent thought favorably of the Afghan Taliban. The rest refrained from answering the question (27 percent and 42 percent for the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban respectively) — typical with a sensitive survey question such as this.
These responses suggest more ambivalence than in views of violent jihad. Nevertheless, attitudes toward these groups are more negative than positive.
More education means more disapproval of the Taliban
My analysis of this data shows that more education is correlated with more negative views of the Taliban. With more education, a higher percentage of respondents think unfavorably of the Pakistan Taliban, and fewer decline to respond. That suggests that more educated people have more confidence or have stronger views, or are less fearful in reporting their views.
However, the proportion who view the Taliban favorably does not change much with more education.
So education does not eliminate support for militant groups, but does increase unfavorable views of them.
The chart immediately below shows that that women are the ones who fail to respond to the question. And their failure to respond takes away only from disapproval of the Taliban, not from approval.
As the two charts below show, at every level of education, men seem to be slightly more likely to view the Taliban favorably than women are. The least educated women are not at all confident about disapproving of the Taliban — but with more education, women become more confident about expressing negative views of the Taliban, although never as much as men.
But in general, for both women and men, the more their education, the more likely they are to state an opinion and to view the Taliban unfavorably — and education doesn’t boost the numbers of those who think well of the Taliban.
Where you live in Pakistan matters, too, as the chart below shows.
KPK, the province where the Taliban is mainly based, which has borne the brunt of the Taliban’s terror, has the largest proportion of unfavorable attitudes toward the Taliban. In Baluchistan, the province with a separatist insurgency being repressed by the state, the highest proportion of people fail to respond. Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, and where Tashfeen Malik was from, is the most favorable toward the Taliban, while Sindh and KPK have the lowest favorability toward the Taliban.
Do such views have anything to do with engaging in violence?
Even those people who view militant groups favorably are very unlikely to ever commit violence. But when a community thinks more sympathetically about militants, members of that community may be more susceptible to recruitment.
Even without a direct relationship with violence, favorable attitudes toward militant groups are dangerous in their own right because they give such groups legitimacy. Fortunately, in Pakistan, disapproval of militant groups is on an upward trend — it went up from 51 percent in 2010 to 56 percent in 2013, and has likely gone up further since then, although 2015 data is not yet available — because of the brutality of militant attacks there.
Madiha Afzal is an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.