ISLAMABAD, Feb 10: Sympathy for Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has dropped sharply in the country amid a wave of deadly violence, according to the results of a recent opinion poll. The survey also identified Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as the country’s most popular party ahead of Feb 18 elections, and said 70 per cent Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to quit.

The poll, conducted last month for the US-based Terror Free Tomorrow organisation, suggests Pakistanis are looking to peaceful opposition groups after months of political turmoil and a wave of suicide attacks.

In the latest bloodshed, a bomber blew himself up at an opposition rally in Charsadda on Saturday, killing 27 people and injuring 50.

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

Backing for Al Qaeda fell to 18 per cent from 33 per cent.

Support for the Taliban dropped by half to 19 per cent from 38 per cent, the results said.

Also, in a sharp rebuke to President Musharraf, 70 per cent voters think he should quit immediately.

Terror Free Tomorrow is a bipartisan group that seeks to reduce support for international terrorism.

Its advisory board includes likely Republican presidential nominee Sen John McCain and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic Congressman who helped lead a study of the White House Iraq policy last year. The group’s president, Ken Ballen, says the advisory board plays no role in individual polls.

The survey, based on interviews with 1,157 people across the country from Jan 19-29, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Only one per cent of Pakistani voters would cast their ballots in favour of Al Qaeda if it was running in parliamentary elections, the survey results said, adding that the Taliban would get 3 per cent.

In contrast, the PPP, polled 36.7 per cent.

Pakistan Muslin League-N scored 25.3 per cent, pushing the pro-Musharraf PML-Q into third place with just 12 per cent.

Despite President Musharraf’s ‘counter-terror’ 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 intelligence agencies.

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

The poll found that 58 per cent of respondent voters suspected President Musharraf, allied politicians or government agencies were responsible for PPP leader Benazir Bhutto’s murder. Only 7 per cent thought Al Qaeda or the Taliban were behind her slaying.—AP


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