WASHINGTON, Sept 17: Pakistan is among the Muslim countries where Al Qaeda has greatly lost its popularity — from above 75 per cent five years ago to 34 per cent now, says Karen Hughes, US Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

In an opinion piece released on Monday, Ms Hughes says that the opinion of the Muslim world about Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden “is turning darker than bin Laden’s newly-dyed beard.”

Talking about a “dramatic decline” in Osama’s standing in majority-Muslim countries, she quotes from recent opinion polls in Iraq and Afghanistan, which show that more than 90 per cent of those populations have unfavourable views of Al Qaeda and of Osama himself.

Similar polls in Turkey two years ago found that 90 per cent of citizens believe the Al Qaeda bombings in London, Istanbul, Madrid and Egypt were unjust and unfair; 86 per cent thought that there was no excuse for condoning the Sept 11 attacks; and 75 per cent said Osama does not represent Muslims.

She says that support for terrorist tactics has fallen in seven of the eight predominantly Muslim countries polled as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project since 2002; in most cases, those declines have been dramatic.

Five years ago in Lebanon, 74 per cent of the population thought suicide bombing could sometimes be justified. Today it’s 34 per cent -- still too high, but a stark reversal.

Similar declines in support have occurred in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Jordan. Muslim populations, according to Ms Hughes, are increasingly rejecting Osama’s attempts to influence their faith.

She quotes from a survey by the WorldPublicOpinion.org, which found in April that large majorities in Egypt (88 per cent), Indonesia (65 per cent) and Morocco (66 per cent) agree: “Groups that use violence against civilians, such as Al Qaeda, are violating the principles of Islam. Islam opposes the use of such violence. “These shifts in attitude are beginning to show up in actions. Sunni leaders in Iraq’s Anbar province are working with coalition forces against Al Qaeda because, she says and quotes one Sunni leader as saying that all the terrorists bring is chaos — “killing people, stealing goats, everything, you name it.” After recent terrorist attacks in Algeria, protesters shouted: “Terrorists are not Muslims” and “no to terrorism; don’t touch my Algeria,” Ms Hughes concludes.

The polls Ms Hughes quotes in her piece show a totally different picture from another survey released last week by a non-partisan NGO called Terror Free Tomorrow.

The Washington-based group claimed that President Pervez Musharraf -- a key US ally -- is less popular in his own country than Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a poll of Pakistanis conducted last month by an anti-terrorism organisation.

Additionally, nearly three-fourths of poll respondents said they oppose US military action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan.

According to this poll, Osama bin Laden has a 46 per cent approval rating. Gen Musharraf’s support is 38 per cent. US President George W. Bush’s approval: 9 per cent.


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