WASHINGTON, Sept 12: The majority in Pakistan considers an independent judiciary as their most important long-term goal, followed by a free media and fair and free elections.

The survey, released on Wednesday by a Washington-based anti-terrorism group ‘Terror Free Tomorrow’, also shows that President Pervez Musharraf is less popular in his own country than Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Most Pakistanis, when asked to describe their priorities chose an independent judiciary as their number one priority, followed by a free media, free elections, an improved economy, resolution of the Kashmir dispute and implementing Sharia law.

The poll also shows that PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, who is recognised in the US as a moderate Muslim leader, has a 53 per cent approval rating, followed by Nawaz Sharif at 47 per cent.

Seventy-five per cent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.

‘Terror Free Tomorrow’ and the US media, however, downplayed these findings. Instead, they focused on responses linked to the US-led war on terror, pointing out that only 18 per cent of the respondents chose defeating Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other jihadi groups when asked to choose the most important long-term goals for their government.

The report is bound to further tarnish an already negative image Pakistan has in this country and may also become a reference document for media and for congressional debates on Pakistan.

Terror Free Tomorrow already tried to set the tone for the anti-Pakistan rhetoric that may follow by warning the Americans that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are popular in a country which is not only Muslim but also possesses nuclear weapons.

The survey “may help explain why Bin Laden remains at large in Pakistan and why both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have regrouped there,” the group pointed out.

“We have conducted 23 polls all over the Muslim world and this is the most disturbing one we have conducted,” Ken Ballen, the group’s head told CNN. “Pakistan is the one Muslim nation that has nuclear weapons, and the people who want to use them against us — like the Taliban and Al Qaeda — are more popular there than our allies like Musharraf.”

The poll was conducted for the group by D3 Systems of Vienna, Virginia, and the Pakistan Institute for Public Opinion. Interviews were conducted between August 18 and 29, face-to-face with 1,044 Pakistanis across 105 urban and rural sampling points in all four provinces across the nation. Households were randomly selected.

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