73pc want Musharraf out: poll
The NAtion, June 21, 2008
PAKISTANIS favour negotiating with Taliban rather than fighting them and hold their US allies in the war on terror most responsible for violence in the country, according to a poll released Friday.
The results show strong public support for the new government's policy of seeking peace with the militants, despite US concerns that a let-up in military pressure will allow the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to operate freely in the lawless tribal regions.
The poll by the Washington-based group Terror Free Tomorrow also shows that three-quarters of respondents want US-backed President Pervez Musharraf to resign or be impeached and that the popularity of his chief critic, Nawaz Sharif, is soaring.
The poll surveyed 1,306 adult Pakistanis in face-to-face interviews in rural and urban areas across the country between May 25 and June 1. It had a three per cent margin of error.
While Musharraf relied more on force in dealing with the militants, the coalition government elected in February has chosen to negotiate with the Taliban through tribal elders. It denies talking with 'terrorists' and says any deal will force out foreign fighters.
The poll found 58 per cent of respondents support talks with the Pakistani Taliban, while 19 per cent want the government to fight them. About 50 per cent wanted talks with Al-Qaeda.
The poll also reveals pervasive anti-US sentiment here nearly seven years after Musharraf made Pakistan a frontline ally of Washington's war on terror.
Although there are no US combat forces based here, 52 per cent of Pakistanis hold the United States most responsible for the violence in the country, compared with just eight per cent who blame Al-Qaeda and four per cent who blame the Pakistani Taliban.
Some 73 per cent say the real purpose of the war on terror is to weaken the Muslim world and dominate Pakistan. Only 12 per cent say they would support unilateral action against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan by the US military, which has more than 30,000 troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
The poll was taken before a US airstrike last week which killed 11 Pakistani border troops, likely deepening anti-American sentiment.
Osama bin Laden's approval rating spiked to 34 per cent from 24 per cent in January, according to the poll. But that was still below the 46 per cent the Al-Qaeda leader garnered last August.
However, most Pakistanis generally view extremists and their leaders negatively, with only 19 per cent of respondents approving of top Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and 62 per cent opposing the presence of Arab and Uzbek Al-Qaeda fighters in the country.
The poll also reaffirmed Musharraf's political difficulties, with the former army leader registering a 73 per cent unfavourable rating. Following elections won by his critics, Musharraf has taken a back seat in politics, but has resisted pressure to resign.
Nawaz Sharif - a former prime minister and Musharraf's top critic - emerged as the most popular politician, with 86 per cent approval, up from 74 per cent in January. His party, which is demanding Musharraf's impeachment, would emerge as the clear winner in a national election with 42 per cent support, according to the poll.
Sharif's party shares power in a shaky coalition with the larger Pakistan People's Party of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto. That party would get only 32 per cent support, according to the poll.
In a sign that a key issue that undermined Musharraf remains dear to Pakistanis, the poll found that 93 per cent think it is important to have an independent judiciary.
But there is also widespread discontent over the high cost of food and fuel, amid double-digit inflation and shortages of staple commodities. Some 86 per cent said they faced increasing difficulty getting flour for daily consumption, primarily because of high prices.
Terror Free Tomorrow, a not-for-profit group, investigates why people support or oppose extremism. The poll was co-sponsored by the New America Foundation, a policy institute with prominent current and former journalists on its board.