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Pakistanis Turn on Taliban, but Resent U.S. - Poll

Paul Eckert

Displaced people from Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley wait in a queue for food in Jalozai refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan on Wednesday, July 1, 2009. Pakistan's army has been battling militants in the Swat Valley, driven some 2 million civilians from their homes. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

WASHINGTON - Public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against the Taliban and other Islamist militants but Pakistanis still do not trust the United States and President Barack Obama, a poll showed on Wednesday.

The poll, conducted last month as Pakistan's army fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley, found that most Pakistanis see the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the nuclear-armed country.

Those Pakistanis who view Islamist militants and local Taliban as a critical threat to their country rose to 81 percent, up from 34 percent in a similar poll in late 2007, the University of Maryland polling project found.

Respondents who described al Qaeda's activities as a critical threat to Pakistan rose 41 percentage points to 82 percent in the same period.

The findings were based on face-to-face interviews of 1,000 adults in the Urdu language across Pakistan from May 17-28. The findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, the University of Maryland polling group said.

The university's Program on International Policy Attitudes conducts polls around the world.

In the poll, seventy percent voiced sympathy for their government over the Pakistani Taliban in the fight for Swat, a scenic district near Pakistan's capital that was overrun by Islamist militants earlier this year.

Seventy-two percent said they were confident Pakistan's army could handle the situation.


The shift in Pakistani public opinion on Islamist militants operating within Pakistan represented a "sea change" caused by "widespread revulsion" at brutal tactics and undemocratic policies of the Taliban when they briefly controlled Swat, poll research director Clay Ramsay said in a statement.

He added that the poll indicated "the U.S. is resented just as much as before, despite the U.S. having a new president."

Sixty-two percent of those questioned expressed low or no confidence that Obama would do the right thing in world affairs. Only 32 percent stated they thought his policies would be better for Pakistan than predecessor George W. Bush's policies.

U.S. drone attacks on militant camps within Pakistan were called unjustified by 82 percent of those in the poll.

Large majorities opposed all aspects of the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan.

On Afghanistan, 61 percent said it would be bad if the Taliban took over that country, while 87 percent said Taliban groups who seek to overthrow the Afghan government should not be permitted to have bases in Pakistan.

Obama's election did not boost the popularity in Pakistan of the United States or U.S. policies, the poll indicated.

Seventy-two percent disapproved of the war in Afghanistan and 79 percent wanted it ended now, while 86 percent disapproved of Obama's decision to more than double the number of U.S. troops in that country, to 68,000, by the end of 2009.

Asked about Obama's goals, 93 percent agreed with the view that he sought to impose American culture on the Islamic world, and 90 percent supported the notion that he wanted to weaken and divide the Muslim world, the survey showed.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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