View from Pakistan: Before Bhutto's Assassination, Public Opinion Was Increasingly Opposed to Terrorism

Dec 28, 2007

The assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto comes at a time when Pakistani public opinion has been increasingly turning against extremism and terrorist violence. As the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey highlighted, support for terrorism is on the decline in much of the Muslim world, and this is particularly true in Pakistan.

In 2004, 41% of Pakistani Muslims said that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians were "often" or "sometimes justified" in order to defend Islam from its enemies, while only 35% felt that such attacks were never justified. In the spring of this year – just months before a suicide attacker would kill Bhutto – only 9% said suicide attacks are often or sometimes justified, while 72% said this kind of violence is never defensible (another 9% say they are "rarely" justified).

Although it is still not clear whether al Qaeda or some other group is responsible for the assassination, Pew surveys over the last few years suggest that al Qaeda is falling out of favor among Pakistanis, and that support for its leader, Osama bin Laden, is on the decline. In 2005, 51% of Pakistanis said they had a lot or some confidence in bin Laden to do the right thing in world affairs. Now, confidence in the terrorist leader has fallen to 38% -- still disturbingly high, but nonetheless a substantial decline in just two years.

Thursday's attack was the latest in a series of deadly bombings in Pakistan. In July, several suicide bombings followed a government raid on the Red Mosque, a militant Islamist stronghold in the capital city, Islamabad. And on October 18, Bhutto's return to Pakistan after eight years in exile was greeted with violence -- a suicide bomber attacked her motorcade in Islamabad, killing more than 100 of her supporters. Even before these incidents, Pakistanis were worried about violence and extremism -- in the 2007 Pew poll, more than three-in-four (76%) called terrorism a "very big problem" for the country. In fact, among the 47 countries included in survey, only Bangladeshis (77%) and Moroccans (81%) were more worried about terrorism. And in a 2006 Pew poll, 74% of Pakistanis said they were very or somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in their country -- a higher level of concern than that found in the other predominantly Muslim countries included in the survey: Jordan (69%), Egypt (68%), Turkey (46%), and Indonesia (43%).

Read the full report View from Pakistan on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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