- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Sympathy for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has dropped sharply in Pakistan amid a wave of deadly violence, according to the results of a recent opinion poll.

The survey, conducted last month for the U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow organization, also identified the party of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as the country’s most popular ahead of Feb. 18 elections and said most Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to quit.

The poll suggests that Pakistanis are looking to peaceful opposition groups after months of political turmoil and a wave of suicide attacks.

According to the poll results, only 24 percent of Pakistanis approved of bin Laden when the survey was conducted last month, compared with 46 percent during a similar survey in August.

Backing for al Qaeda, whose senior leaders are thought to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, fell to 18 percent from 33 percent.

Support for the Taliban, whose Pakistani offshoots have seized control of much of the lawless border area and have been engaged in a growing war against security forces, dropped by half to 19 percent from 38 percent, the results said.

Also, in a sharp rebuke to Mr. Musharraf — who seized power in a 1999 coup and whose standing has slumped since he tried to fire Pakistan’s chief justice in March — 70 percent of voters think he should quit immediately.

Terror Free Tomorrow’s advisory board includes likely Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman who helped lead a study of White House Iraq policy last year.

Only 1 percent of Pakistani voters would cast their ballots in favor of al Qaeda if it were running in parliamentary elections, the survey results said, adding that the Taliban would get 3 percent.

In contrast the moderate and secular Pakistan People’s Party, led by Mrs. Bhutto until her death in a suicide attack on Dec. 27, polled 36.7 percent.

The party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, scored 25.3 percent, pushing the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q into third place with just 12 percent.

Despite Mr. Musharraf’s counterterrorism alliance with Washington and calls for Pakistan to plot a course of “enlightened moderation,” Pakistanis remain distrustful of the president and his authorities, especially the shadowy intelligence agencies.

Opposition parties accuse authorities of trying to rig the elections to prevent the formation of a hostile parliament that could impeach Mr. Musharraf, who imposed a state of emergency last year to safeguard his re-election.

The poll found that 58 percent of respondent voters suspected Mr. Musharraf, allied politicians or government agencies were responsible for Mrs. Bhutto’s death. Only 7 percent thought al Qaeda or the Taliban were behind her slaying.

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