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'Majority Pakistanis want democracy; wary of US'
Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | January 07, 2008 20:49 IST
A majority of Pakistanis want a moderate and democratic Islamic state, but they are also wary of the United States as they perceive that Washington is hostile toward Islam, according to a recent survey.
They have little sympathy for Islamist military groups and reject Talibanization of the country. They also support recent government efforts to reform the madrasa system, said the survey conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org with assistance from the US Institute of Peace.
"While Pakistan is racked by the conflict between leaders and groups vying for power, this poll indicates that most Pakistanis largely agree on a moderate and democratic Islamic state," Steven Kull of WorldPublicOpinion.org said in a statement recently.
"The good news is that majority of Pakistanis view most militant groups in Pakistan as a threat. The bad news is that many Pakistanis view the US with great suspicion," Christine Fair of the RAND Corporation, formerly at the US Institute of Peace, remarked.
There is a growing Pakistani perception that the United States is hostile to their desire for a more Islamic society. Indeed, 86 per cent now say it is definitely a US goal to weaken and divide the Islamic world.
The survey finds strong public support for a wider role for Islam. Asked to gauge the importance of living "in a country that is governed according to Islamic principles (Sharia)" on a 10-point scale, 61 per cent responded: 10 (absolutely important).
And on the importance of living "in a country that is governed by representatives elected by the people", the average response is 8.4, which indicates an overwhelming support for the suggestion.
But, there is little support among Pakistanis for a shift to extreme religious conservatism. Only a small minority, 15 per cent, even among those who want a greater role for Sharia, want to see more "talibanisation of daily life".
Eighty-one per cent say it is important for Pakistan to protect religious minorities, which have been frequent targets of militant violence and 75-78 per cent say that attacks on specific religious minorities (Ahmadiyya and Shia) are never justified.
The survey identified substantial support for reforming madrasas. Approximately two-thirds (64 per cent) support a recent government plan to regulate the madrasas, requiring them to register with the government and to spend more time on subjects like math and science.
Only 17 per cent are opposed to such reform efforts. Interestingly, those who want a larger role for Sharia are more likely than others to strongly favour these reforms.
There is also little sympathy for Islamist militant groups operating in Pakistan. Three in five (60-62 per cent) view the activities of al Qaeda, local Taliban, and Pakistani Islamist militant groups as threats to Pakistan's vital interests.
The survey has shown that a large majority wants the special status of the region along the Afghan border, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, to be phased out and for the FATA to be integrated into Pakistan's legal structure.
Seventy two per cent think that the Frontier Crimes Regulation should be changed so that people in FATA "have the same rights and responsibilities as all other Pakistanis." Only 8 per cent think it should be left unchanged.
The survey was conducted from September 12 and September 18, just before President Pervez Musharraf [Images] declared a six-week state of emergency.