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Pakistan Opinion Poll Says Majority Does Not Support Islamist Militants


A recent public opinion poll in Pakistan indicates little support for Islamist militants, but also widespread mistrust of the United States. The poll was conducted last September before the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at Maryland University and the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace sponsored the survey. VOA's Ravi Khanna has more.

The poll suggests that a large majority of Pakistanis has negative views of Islamist militant groups such as al-Qaida and Taliban and considers them a threat. But at the same time, a majority also rejects military action against the militants, such as last year's assault on the Red Mosque.

The survey concludes that contrary to the impression in the West, a majority of Pakistanis do not favor Islamic militants.

Clay Ramsay is the director of research at the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

"These findings suggest that there is strong public support for giving Islamic principles a greater role in governance,” Ramsay says, “but this does not mean support for extreme religious conservatism. On the contrary there is significant support for reforms going in the opposite direction."

Steven Kull is another director with the program. He says some people believe that the opposition to President Musharraf and the United States has intensified because more Pakistanis favor religious militants.

"It does not appear to be rooted in some radical Islamist ideology," says Kul, "and it has not driven Pakistanis into the arms of Islamic militants."

Kull says there is no significant political constituency that is for or against the West or, for that matter, for or against the Islamists. "There is a small minority that is sympathetic to militant Islamists, and al-Qaida, but it is not a significant political constituency and it by no means is characteristic of the supporters of any of the major leaders, including Nawaz Sharif," Kull adds it is necessary for the U.S. to address the Pakistani people as a whole, because there is no specific group on which to focus.

He says researchers spoke with a wide variety of people, including supporters of President Musharraf and opposition leaders Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto. All groups, he says, expressed lack of trust in the United States.

"The bad news is there is also no faction within the Pakistani political society that the United States can really turn to, that is sympathetic to it, that can be used as a kind of base to work from. All of these factions perceive the U.S. as a threat. Even Musharraf supporters have a very negative view of the U.S.," Kull says.

Kull said a large majority of all groups reject the idea that Pakistani government should allow U.S. troops to enter Pakistan to pursue and capture al-Qaida fighters. The New York Times recently reported the Bush administration is considering covert action against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas.

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