Few in Pakistan Support Extremists—But Few Favor Military Confrontation

Mar 12, 2009

The March 3rd attack on the visiting Sri Lankan national cricket team in Lahore was the latest in a series of troubling headlines from Pakistan, where extremist groups are increasingly demonstrating their ability to strike throughout the country. Last September, a Marriott hotel in Islamabad, the nation's capital, was bombed, killing more than 50 people, and overall there have been approximately 60 suicide bombings in Pakistan in each of the last two years.

In recent months, Taliban fighters have terrorized much of the once stable Swat Valley, implementing a strict version of Islamic law, banning music, closing girls' schools, and killing opponents. Earlier this month, the government agreed to a truce with supposedly moderate elements within the Taliban in Swat Valley, although whether the truce will hold and what it will mean for local residents remains unclear.

These headline-making assaults have, however, been perpetrated in a country where public support for extremism has declined sharply in recent years. Surveys by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project have found progressively lower levels of acceptance of suicide bombing as well as waning confidence in Osama bin Laden. There is only modest support among Pakistanis for al Qaeda or the Taliban. And few agree with their widely noted tactic of preventing education for girls.

Nonetheless, while the trends are positive, sizeable minorities still embrace extremism -- for instance, one-in-three continue to express confidence in bin Laden, who many intelligence analysts believe is hiding somewhere in western Pakistan. And while most Pakistanis are worried about religious extremism, polling by the International Republican Institute (PDF) suggests they are not convinced the Pakistani army should be used to fight radical groups. Instead, most would prefer making a peace deal with extremists.

Read the full report Few in Pakistan Support Extremists—But Few Favor Military Confrontation on the Pew Research Center's Web site.

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