New Poll on Trends in Pakistan: Musharraf is the least popular Pakistani Leader Today

Pakistanis Reject US Military Action against Al Qaeda; More Support bin Laden than President Musharraf: Results of a New Nationwide Public Opinion Survey of Pakistan
Terror Free Tomorrow: September 11, 2007

Executive Summary:
Nearly three quarters of Pakistanis oppose unilateral American military action to pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters based inside Pakistan. Moreover, a third or more of Pakistanis have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and bin Laden. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is also the least popular political leader in Pakistan today (38% favorable)—falling considerably behind bin Laden (46% favorable).

These are among the many significant findings of a new nationwide public opinion survey in August covering both rural and urban as well as all four regions of Pakistan.

Only 13% of Pakistanis support unilateral American military action pursuing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters inside Pakistan. Among all Pakistanis nationwide, a majority support the Pakistani military by itself—without the United States military—pursing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters inside Pakistan. However, only 20% of those in the
Northwest Frontier Province, where these groups are primarily located, support such action—with 67% opposed to the Pakistani military pursuing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Overwhelming opposition to American military action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan is accompanied by universal disdain for the U.S. led war on terror. When Pakistanis were asked, unprompted, what they think is the real purpose of the U.S.-led war on terror, a mere 4% volunteered any kind of positive motivation. Remaining responses were all decidedly negative, with “breaking Muslim countries, killing Muslims, ending Islam, etc” among the most common, volunteered responses. At the same time, radical groups such as Al Qaeda have considerable popular support inside Pakistan. While a third of Pakistanis nationwide express a favorable opinion of Al Qaeda itself, 38% favor the Taliban, rising to 49% favoring local Pakistani Jihadi groups.

As significantly, only 43% have an unfavorable opinion of Al Qaeda, dropping to 38% with the Taliban to just 24% with local Pakistani Jihadi allies of Al Qaeda—groups which the United States have designated as terrorist.

Similarly, when asked to choose the most important long-term goals for the government of Pakistan, the least important priority for Pakistanis was defeating Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Jihadi groups.

While a majority or close to a majority picked ensuring an independent judiciary, free press and free elections, improving the Pakistani economy, resolving the issue of Kashmir and implementing strict Sharia law throughout Pakistan as very important long-term goals for the government of Pakistan, only 18% chose defeating Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Jihadi groups.

President Musharraf, who has publicly cooperated with the United States in pursuing Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, has the lowest favorability and highest unfavorable rating of any political figure in Pakistan today. 38% of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of President Musharraf, while his principal rivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both former Prime Ministers, enjoy favorable opinions of 63% and 57%, respectively.

Musharraf also falls behind Osama bin Laden, who has 46% of Pakistanis rating him as favorable, along with other radical Pakistani Islamist leaders who have similar ratings.

In fact, bin Laden has a 70% favorable rating inside the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan itself, where the consensus of American intelligence believes he is now located in hiding.

More significantly for President Musharraf, Pakistanis who hold an unfavorable opinion of him is nearly twice that of other mainstream figures such as Bhutto—as well as Bin Laden and other radical leaders. For example, 53% have an unfavorable opinion of Musharraf vs. only 26% for bin Laden. The sole political figure who garners a higher unfavorable opinion than Musharraf in Pakistan is President George Bush.

Support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and other radical groups does not mean, however, that equal percentages of Pakistanis support suicide bombings. In fact, 18% of Pakistanis think such attacks are often or sometimes justified, while three- uarters believe that they are never or rarely justified.

While support for the US military action and the US war on terror is quite low, overall favorable and unfavorable opinions of the United States itself have remained relatively steady. 19% of Pakistanis now have a favorable opinion of the U.S. and 72% are unfavorable. The numbers from our last poll of Pakistan in May 2006 were 26% favorable and 64% unfavorable. The United States, however, had the lowest favorable rating of any country asked.

Moreover, there has been a dramatic change of opinion since the first nationwide survey of Pakistan following American relief to the Pakistani earthquake victims in November 2005, which was also conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow. At that time, we found that 46% of Pakistanis were favorable to the United States, and 45% were unfavorable.

Yet, despite pervasive negative feelings toward the United States, a majority of Pakistanis said their opinion of the US would improve if American educational, medical, disaster, business investment, and the number of visas for Pakistanis to work in the US increased.

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