Polls: Musharraf, al Qaeda losing support

Support from Pakistanis for al Qaeda and the Taliban has plummeted in Pakistan, and so has their confidence in the current government, according to two recently released nationwide polls.

The separate polls were conducted by two U.S.-based organizations, the International Republican Institute and Terror Free Tomorrow.

They were released a week before Pakistanis head to the polls to elect a new parliament. The campaign has been marred by killings.

The government delayed the vote by six weeks because of the turmoil ignited when opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27. In the last three days, two suicide bombings killed about 20 people at rallies in northwestern Pakistan.

Both polls indicate that President Pervez Musharraf’s ruling coalition will have a difficult time retaining power in the vote.

IRI, which describes itself as nonpartisan organization promoting democracy worldwide, spoke in person to 3,485 Pakistanis and its poll, released Monday, has a 1.7-percentage-point sampling error.

TFT, which says its mission is to find out why people support terrorism in an effort to build successful counter-terror policies, spoke in person to 1,157 Pakistanis and its poll, released over the weekend, has a 3-percent-point sampling error.

According to the IRI poll, 84 percent of Pakistanis surveyed said the country is heading in the wrong direction — a sharp increase from the 44 percent who gave the same response to the institute in February of last year.

More than 70 percent said their personal economic situation has worsened in the past year, and nearly half said they do not expect the country’s economic situation to get much better over the next year.

More than 60 percent said Musharraf’s ruling coalition does not deserve to be re-elected. The president’s approval rating, according to the poll, stands at 15 percent — a 50 percent drop since November. Seventy-five percent of those polled said he should resign.

Terror Free Tomorrow’s poll also found an overwhelming number of Pakistanis — 70 percent — think Musharraf should step down as president.

Musharraf and his political opponents have vowed to crack down on the rising al Qaeda and Taliban extremists in Pakistan’s tribal region.

But more than half of the Pakistanis polled by the IRI said inflation is the key issue they will consider when choosing which party to vote for. Another 15 percent listed unemployment as their main concern.

Only 12 percent listed terrorism as the determining factor in choosing a party. An overwhelming 89 percent of the Pakistanis polled rejected any cooperation with the United States in the “war on terrorism.”

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in that fight, receiving at least $10 billion from Washington since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Asked who was responsible for Bhutto’s death, the majority of Pakistanis surveyed by IRI rejected the government’s assertion that al Qaeda was involved.

Sixty-two percent said they believe the government had a role in her assassination, while only 13 percent believe al Qaeda was responsible. The remaining 25 percent said they weren’t sure.

Terror Free Tomorrow’s poll found 58 percent of those surveyed thought Musharraf and his government were responsible for her assassination.

The man who has replaced Bhutto as her party’s possible prime minister candidate fared well among those polled by IRI.

They were asked to name a leader that could best handle Pakistan’s problems, and 32 percent went for Pakistan People’s Party Vice Chairman Makhdom Amin Fahim, and 14 percent chose Bhutto’s son, Bilawal, who is the official party leader.

Another 23 percent chose Nawaz Sharif, a former Pakistani prime minister and head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. Only 8 percent chose Musharraf.

Terror Free Tomorrow’s poll also found that Pakistani’s public support for radical Islamic groups — including al Qaeda, its leader Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban— has significantly dropped in the past five months.

In August, 46 percent of Pakistanis polled in a TFT survey said they had a favorable opinion of bin Laden; that dropped to 24 percent in last month’s poll. Support for the Taliban dropped during the same time period from 38 to 19 percent.

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