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Many Pakistanis Oppose Military Operations Along Afghan Border


An opinion survey in Pakistan indicates most people do not support military operations against Al Qaida and Taliban groups in the country's tribal areas. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border are considered a critical base for al Qaida militants and Taliban forces fighting in Afghanistan. The remote region has significant autonomy, operating under a different legal and political system than the rest of Pakistan.

For the past several years, Pakistan has tried to contain the militants in the region. But a recent opinion poll of Pakistanis in urban areas shows only 44 percent support sending the military to the region to capture al Qaida fighters.

Thirty-six percent of the people surveyed opposed military intervention.

The response was similar when people were asked if the military should pursue Taliban fighters from Afghanistan.

Political analyst Hassan Askari is not surprised. He says that although the Pakistani government supports the U.S. war against terrorism, the public largely does not.

"That is the basic failure," he said. "The government has not been able to convince the people that the war on terrorism serves their interests."

The poll, by WorldPublicOpinion.Org in Washington, also shows that 80 percent of those surveyed strongly oppose allowing U.S. or other foreign troops into the tribal areas to pursue al Qaida fighters.

Pakistan is a leading ally in the U.S.-led effort to fight terrorism.

Pakistan has experienced a surge in suicide bombings this year with more than 100 attacks, spreading from tribal areas to the cities.

President Pervez Musharraf and other political leaders say that cracking down on militants in the tribal regions is necessary to stop the region's escalating violence.

But Islamic opposition parties argue that those crackdowns have angered many people and sparked retaliatory attacks. Askari says Islamic parties think that stopping the military operations will halt the suicide attacks.

"The Islamic parties are basically arguing that, it is in fact because the Pakistani government is pursuing an American agenda," he said. "If they stop pursuing the American agenda this problem would be solved."

The poll also reported widespread sympathy for some goals of the Islamic opposition parties. The results indicated some 60 percent of Pakistanis believe Sharia, or Islamic law, should play a larger role in Pakistan's legal system than it does now.

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