Islamabad's fight against Millitants has weak support

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Washington, Oct 31: Islamabad's fight against Islamic militants has only weak support among Pakistanis, who also strongly oppose allowing outside forces to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan, according to a poll released today.

The poll conducted last month, before a suicide bombing in Karachi killed 139 people following former Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto's return from exile, also showed scant support for President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally of the United States.

The poll of 907 Pakistanis in urban areas found that 44 percent favor sending the Pakistani army to northwestern tribal areas to pursue and capture al Qaeda militants, while 48 per cent support allowing the Pakistan army to fight Taliban insurgents who have crossed over from Afghanistan.

About one-third of respondents opposed military action in those two cases and a fifth declined to answer, the poll showed.

An overwhelming 80 per cent of respondents voiced opposition to allowing U.S. or other foreign troops to attack al Qaeda on Pakistani territory. Seventy-seven percent opposed allowing foreign troops to attack Taliban insurgents based in Pakistan, the poll showed.

Only 5 per cent said they approved of missions by foreign troops to pursue Taliban or al Qaeda. Both militant groups are believed to have regrouped in border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan after they were ousted from power in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Among urban Pakistanis asked to name ''the best person to lead Pakistan'' 27 per cent named Bhutto, 21 per cent cited Musharraf and 21 percent supported former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who remains in exile after an abortive attempt to return home last month.

''The Pakistani people are not enthusiastic about Musharraf, do not support his recent crackdown on fundamentalists, and are lukewarm at best about going after al Qaeda or the Taliban in western Pakistan,'' said director Steven Kull.

''It appears that a US strategy that rests on Musharraf being a front line in the war on terrorism has poor prospects,'' he said in a statement accompanying the poll.


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