JUDGING what Pakistanis really think about current affairs can be tricky. Do you ask the English-speaking chattering classes in the cities for their views on the death of Osama bin Laden, or try to find some way to hear what less-educated, rural folk conclude? Aside from venturing to places like Abbottabad, or specially- planned trips to see flood victims or assess life nearer the border of Afghanistan, many journalists, especially foreigners, are likely to end up hearing more from the better-off, English-speaking Pakistanis who live not far from their hotels. So a new poll on the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, by Gallup in Pakistan, makes for interesting reading. Researched between May 7 th and 10 th, it was run in both towns and rural areas, among a decent-sized sample of 2 ,530 people of various linguistic, educational and class backgrounds. The interviews were done in person, not over the phone, which means it reaches a wide range of people. It turns out that Pakistanis, as ever, believe in conspiracies. Although two- thirds, roughly, reckon that America trampled on Pakistani sovereignty in the Navy Seals’ raid to kill bin Laden on May 2 nd (perhaps surprisingly, as many as 23 % concluded that sovereignty was not infringed), nearly half (49 %) thought that the whole incident was actually staged for some reason or other. Only 26 % thought the al-Qaeda chief was really killed on the night in question. As for how Pakistanis sum up bin Laden himself: 44 % concluded he was a “martyr”, while 26% preferred to call him a “criminal”. The Pakistani fondness for conspiracies seems to have two causes. First, the conspiracy theory often turns out to be right: those who have seen the army’s hand in politics, or who reckon that spies, spooks and terrorists are meddling across their country, trying to shape developments, are proven correct more often in Pakistan than almost anywhere else. Banyan said as much , in reference to the arrest of an American CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, in February. A second reason for the popularity of conspiracy theories, however, is that ordinary people feel powerless. They feel that the powerful make their decisions out of sight, with little public scrutiny. Public funds, whether raised by taxes or aid, are spent with little scrutiny. There’s a lively press, noisy television shows, great exchanges of opinion and rage among politicians, commentators, lawyers and activists. But getting people to agree on facts is difficult. One Pakistani former ambassador to America put it nicely over a cup of tea last week, suggesting that “we love conspiracies because wherever there is a lack of information then rumours thrive”. This chimes with other findings in the Gallup poll. The one institution that Pakistanis have generally reckoned is reliable, the army, has taken a battering over the bin Laden affair. Nearly half of those polled (48 %) think that the army “connived” in the American raid on Abbottabad at the start of the month, representing a widespread and unusual criticism of the institution (considering so many of the respondents disapproved of the attack). Still, there is a consolation for the men in uniform: the civilian leaders are even less well liked, as 57 % of respondents saw complicity by their elected leaders.