A radical turnabout in Pakistan
In just five months, public approval of Osama bin Laden has dropped by half.
Washington and Los Angeles
This week's election results in Pakistan give Islamabad's next government the mandate to finally put the terrorists out of business. Violence in Pakistan – mostly driven by Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda forces – has not abated since the December assassination of leading opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But in a potential hinge moment for what Newsweek recently called "the most dangerous nation in the world," Pakistani public opinion has turned dramatically and decisively against the radicals.Skip to next paragraph
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Last August, Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT) conducted a survey across Pakistan showing that from one-third to one-half of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Al Qaeda and related radical Islamist groups. Nearly half of respondents had a positive view of Osama bin Laden.
But now, the momentous events of the past several months – President Musharraf's crackdown against the press and opposition figures, mounting terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the assassination of Bhutto, and the campaign leading up to Monday's unprecedented election – have resulted in a sea change in Pakistani public opinion.
In a new nationwide survey conducted last month, Pakistani public support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and other radical Islamist groups has plummeted by half – all the way down to the teens and single digits. The bottom has fallen out for support of the radicals.
If Al Qaeda had appeared on the ballot as a political party in the election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would have voted for them. The Taliban would have drawn just 3 percent of the vote.
Even in areas near or in their home base, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are losing public support. Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have sunk to single digits. In August, 70 percent of the population of this region expressed a favorable opinion of bin Laden. Today just 4 percent do.
Indeed, these survey results mirror the stinging defeat of the Islamist parties at the hands of the voters in the North-West Frontier Province. The religious parties were big losers there, winning just nine seats in the provincial assembly, as opposed to 67 in the 2002 elections.