ISLAMABAD, July 17: An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis believe that the country is moving in a wrong direction and want the government to immediately impeach President Pervez Musharraf.

According to the findings of a survey, conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) between June 1 and 15, about 86 per cent of the respondents believe that Pakistan is heading in a wrong direction while only 12 per cent think the direction is right.

The randomly selected sample consisted of 3,484 adult men and women from 223 rural and 127 urban areas in 50 districts of the four provinces. This is the first survey carried out by any international organisation since the installation of the PPP-led coalition government after the February 18 polls.

According to the survey, 83 per cent of the respondents want the new government to remove Gen (retd) Musharraf from presidency. A majority of 67 per cent people said they supported the election of nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan as the country’s next president while 15 per cent said they did not.

With the decline in Mr Musharraf’s popularity and after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has emerged as the most popular leader in the country, with 82 per cent saying they like him and only six per cent saying they do not. This is up from 36 per cent in June 2006, when he trailed both Mr Musharraf and Ms Bhutto. Likewise, Mr Sharif easily dominated the ‘best leader for Pakistan’ category, being the choice of 38 per cent, leaving the competition far behind. Interestingly, Dr A.Q. Khan is at number two (with 76pc) and deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif sharing the third position (with 65pc) on the list of favourite personalities.

The poll found that President Musharraf’s job approval rating had dropped significantly. Only 11 per cent said they approved of his performance while an all-time high of 75 per cent saying they did not.

In the IRI’s June 2006 poll, President Musharraf was the most popular leader in the country, with 52 per cent saying they liked him. In the June 2008 poll, only nine per cent said they liked the president.

When asked which one leader was the best person to handle the country’s problems, President Musharraf was the choice of only three per cent.

When asked if they thought President Musharraf should resign, an all-time high of 85 per cent answered in the affirmative, up 10 points from the last poll. In addition, 79 per cent said they would feel better about the future of the country if Musharraf was out of office.

Likewise, Musharraf’s allies also find themselves in an unpopular position. Only eight per cent of the respondents said they liked PML-Q leaders Pervez Ilahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.

When asked to rate various institutions, 85 per cent said they had a favourable impression of the government, making it the most popular institution. This is in sharp contrast to the 29 per cent rating that the previous government had received.

When asked how had the government performed on issues important to them, 41 per cent responded positively and 51 per cent negatively. Despite the fact that a majority rated the government’s performance as poor, this represents a significant drop from the last rating achieved by the old government.

In the February poll, 80 per cent rated the old government’s performance poorly while only 18 per cent rated it positively.

When asked if they felt that things would get better in Pakistan now that there is a new government, 52 per cent replied yes and 20 per cent said no.

When asked about their personal economic condition over the past year, 12 per cent said it had improved, 72 per cent said it had worsened and 16 per cent said it had remained the same. When asked if they felt their economic wellbeing would improve or worsen during the coming year, 19 per cent said it would improve, 46 per cent said it would worsen and 21 per cent felt it would remain the same.

When asked to choose their most important issue from a list, 71 per cent cited inflation, 13 per cent unemployment and five per cent poverty. This represents a total of 89 per cent of the population citing economic concerns as their top priority.

Pakistanis are also unambiguous when it comes to restoration of the deposed judges. Eighty-three per cent said they wanted the judges to be reinstated. When asked how important this issue was to them, 86 per cent described it as important.

WAR ON TERROR: In the last poll, conducted in the wake of both Ms Bhutto’s assassination and some suicide bombings, 12 per cent selected terrorism as their top issue and six per cent law and order. In the June poll, however, the issue barely resonated; two per cent cited suicide bombings and less than one per cent chose Al Qaeda as a top concern.

While 61 per cent said they felt that religious extremism was a serious problem in the country (down 12 per cent), only 45 per cent said Al Qaeda and the Taliban were a serious concern, a 20 point drop since February and an all-time low since the IRI started asking the question last September.

Further, the number supporting the army fighting in the NWFP and tribal areas dropped six points to 27 per cent.

When it comes to solutions for combating extremism and terrorism, the poll reveals that the Pakistani people are unambiguous, preferring negotiations and development to military options. When asked if they supported political dialogue with extremists, 71 per cent responded yes while 65 per cent said they supported a peace deal.

When asked what they thought was the most effective way to deal with terrorism, 61 per cent said economic development and education, nine per cent said military force and 24 per cent said both.

Among the PPP leaders, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani saw a large increase in his popularity, with 64 per cent saying they liked him, up from 23 per cent in the last poll. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also saw an increase in his popularity to 61 per cent, up from 55 per cent. Likewise, PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari also saw his popularity rise from 37 per cent to 45 per cent. And while Makhdoom Amin Fahim saw his popularity drop from a high of 67 per cent in the wake of Ms Bhutto’s assassination, he remained popular with a rating of 49 per cent. It is interesting to note that his rating is still higher than Mr Zardari’s.

Pakistanis consider February’s election to have been mostly fair; only 21 per cent said they felt that the elections had been rigged.