ISLAMABAD — A poll released Thursday by an US think-tank showed most Pakistanis want military ruler President Pervez Musharraf to step down as head of the country’s army.
The survey by the International Republican Institute found that 62 percent of respondents thought Musharraf should resign as army chief, while 59 percent said that elections held while he continues to wear his military uniform were unlikely to be free and fair.
The institute, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation, said it interviewed a randomly selected 4,000 adult men and women in 60 districts across Pakistan between June 13 and July 3.
It said the survey aimed to present a “comprehensive analysis of attitudes regarding the Pakistani political landscape.”
The survey found that 62 percent of people were opposed to Musharraf being elected to a second term by the current assemblies.
Asked if the army should play a role in civilian government, 55 percent said it should not, while 40 percent believed it should.
However, 48 percent said they would support Musharraf’s re-election if he first resigned from the army, called parliamentary elections, and then sought re-election from the new assemblies.
Forty-seven percent of those surveyed supported a pre-election power sharing deal between former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, currently living in self-imposed exile, and Musharraf, while 37 percent said they opposed such a move.
Bhutto and Musharraf held secret talks in Abu Dhabi last month on a deal but they reached no agreement on two key issues, Pakistani officials have said.
The sticking points were Musharraf’s dual role as president and head of Pakistan’s powerful army and a rule that prevents Bhutto serving a third term as premier.
Musharraf took power in a military coup in October 1999, toppling the elected government of Nawaz Sharif, who was later sent into exile. Both Sharif and Bhutto have said they wish to return to Pakistan to contest elections slated for early next year.
A decision by Musharraf on Thursday not to impose emergency rule, contrary to advice from political aides, would have provided ammunition to his political rivals by derailing a return to the democratic process.
This is because it would have automatically extended the life of the current parliament for another year.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday began deliberating on Sharif’s application to have his exile overturned and be permitted to return to the country.
Sharif lodged his appeal earlier this month to end his seven years of exile. He still officially heads his faction of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League party from exile, while Bhutto leads the centrist Pakistan People’s Party.
Wajid Hasan, a former Pakistani high commissioner to London and now an advisor to Bhutto, told AFP that a declaration of emergency rule would have been a blow to Musharraf’s standing and would have likely led to a legal challenge from opposition parties.
General elections are due by early 2008.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said last month that Pakistan is in danger of failing as a state unless Musharraf’s military government restores democracy by holding free and fair elections this year.