Pakistanis 'less wary' of Taliban

Poll finds views on threat of armed groups softening and pessimism about the economy.

    Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, received just a 20 per cent approval rating [EPA]

    Fewer Pakistanis are concerned about armed groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, according to a new survey from the US-based Pew research centre.

    Such groups remain deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and a majority of the Pakistani public views them as a threat,  but they are viewed slightly more favourably than last year, Pew's results indicated.

    The survey also found that US drone strikes remain deeply unpopular; that most Pakistanis want the US to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan; and that few expect their country's struggling economy to improve over the next 12 months.

    Pew polled 2,000 people in Pakistan's four provinces, but it did not poll residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which have borne the brunt of the fighting between the government and armed groups. Parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces were not polled because of security concerns.

    A diminishing threat?

    Just 15 per cent of Pew's respondents approved of the Taliban; 18 per cent expressed favorable views of al-Qaeda.

    Those numbers are up slightly from 2009, though, when 10 per cent of respondents endorsed the Taliban and nine per cent approved of al-Qaeda.

    The number of Pakistanis calling the Taliban and al-Qaeda a "serious threat" declined by 19 points and 23 points, respectively. 

    Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they were "very worried" or "somewhat worried" about "extremist groups" taking control of the country, down from 69 per cent last year.

    More than half of respondents called India their greatest threat, although a vast majority also supported increased trade and better relations with their neighbour to the east.

    The survey also found little enthusiasm for the US drone attacks carried out in Pakistan's tribal areas. Just 32 per cent of Pakistanis said the raids were necessary; 90 per cent said they kill too many civilians.

    The exact number of civilians killed by drone strikes is the subject of much debate, with most credible estimates running between 300 and 400 people - roughly one-third of all reported fatalities.

    Barack Obama, the US president, has escalated the drone strike programme over the last 18 months.

    Of the 146 strikes carried out in Pakistan since 2004, 50 of them have occurred in 2010 alone, according to data collected by the Washington-based New America Foundation.

    Pessimism at home

    Pew also found widespread dissatisfication with the state of domestic affairs in Pakistan: 84 per cent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the state of the country.

    One main reason was pessimism about the economy, which has posted its worst-ever growth rates over the last two years.

    Blackouts leave much of the country without power for hours each day; the official unemployment rate stands at more than 14 per cent; and the government recently raised the price of sugar by 25 per cent to cope with shortages, raising fears of another "sugar crisis" like the one that sparked widespread public anger last year.

    Only 19 per cent of respondents expect the economy to improve over the next year, while fully half expect it will deteriorate further.

    The widespread anger about domestic affairs translated into strong support for opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-N. 

    Seventy-one per cent of respondents had a positive view of Sharif, giving him a better favourability rating than Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the popular chief justice, and General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief.

    Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, received a 59 per cent favourability rating, while Imran Khan, the ex-cricketer-turned-politician, received 52 per cent.

    The harshest reviews were reserved for Asif Ali Zardari, the unpopular Pakistani president.

    Just 20 per cent of respondents said they approved of the man nicknamed "Mr 10 per cent" because of his alleged corruption.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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