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Terrorism & Security

Poll: Pakistanis worried about Taliban, economy

The survey found only 10 percent of the population is worried about terrorism, but 69 percent said the Taliban and Al Qaeda were a problem.

By Liam Stack / May 12, 2009



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Few in Pakistan see terrorism as their biggest concern. But many say the Taliban and Al Qaeda presence in Pakistan is a serious problem, according to a survey released Monday.

The poll, which was conducted in March before the start of the current military operation against Taliban forces in the Northwest Frontier Province, shows a country worried about its economic future and restless over the seriousness of the Taliban threat and the best way to confront it.

Calling the survey "arguably out of date" due to the steep escalation in Pakistan's conflict with the Taliban since March 30, a Reuters analysis of the poll says it reveals "how conflicted Pakistanis have become in their views, and the scale of the challenge the government has faced trying to win support for its counterterrorism strategy." It called the results "a sea change" in Pakistani attitudes towards military cooperation with the US, with 37 percent of the public supporting joint counterterror initiatives. Fifteen months ago, just 9 percent of Pakistanis supported joint operations.

Economic concerns remained the biggest worry for the largest number of people, says the Washington, D.C.-based International Republican Institute (IRI), which conducted the poll. A total of 77 percent of Pakistanis cited some form of economic insecurity as their biggest worry, while just 10 percent said terrorism was their largest concern. The survey also found that a majority of the public supports instituting some form of Islamic law.

The survey did find "rising concern over terrorism in general," with the number of people feeling threatened by religious extremism – and calling for a military response – to be at a historic high. 

Although only 10 percent of respondents cited terrorism as the most important issue, the March 2009 poll registered rising concern over terrorism in general.  When asked if they felt that religious extremism was a serious problem in Pakistan, 74 percent replied yes, the highest percentage since September 2007.  The highest percentage yet, 69 percent, agreed that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operating in Pakistan was a serious problem, while 45 percent said that they supported the Pakistani Army fighting the extremists in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, another all-time high.            

The poll also revealed deep unhappiness with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain leader Benazir Bhutto who is currently charged with leading the fight against the Taliban. His approval rating has fallen to 19 percent, far behind opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who, IRI says, has the support of 75 percent of the public. The survey found that 71 percent of respondents want him to serve as president. 

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