Poll: Pakistanis against Taliban, disagree over sharia views
A new poll shows public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against the Taliban and other Islamist militants, even though they still do not trust the United States and President Barack Obama. Reporting on the poll, our Asia specialist in Washington, Paul Eckert, said the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, conducted in May as Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley, found that 81 percent saw the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country, a jump from 34 percent in a similar poll in late 2007. Read Eckert’s report here.
(Photo: Pakistani Taliban in Swat, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)
The poll shows a wide divergence between Pakistani public opinion and the views of the Taliban on the implementation of sharia, a religious issue sometimes cited to help explain earlier tolerance of the militants. Some 80 percent of the respondents said sharia permits education for girls, one of the first services the Taliban close down when they gain control of an area. And 75 percent said sharia allows women to work, which the Taliban do not.
Reflecting their distrust, 71 percent said they believed the Taliban would not even submit to the sharia courts that they themselves have set up or promised to install as a pure and speedy alternative to Pakistan’s corrupt and inefficient civil courts. Only 14 percent supported the Taliban claim that it could provide more effective and timely justice than the state, a claim that partly helped the Islamist militants in the past (although it must be added that only 56 percent expressed trust in the civil courts). Only 9 percent said they thought the Taliban would do better at fighting corruption than the government, which got a lukewarm 47 percent. In any case, these results seem to indicate very little support for trademark Taliban promises that once seemed attractive.
If accurate, these findings mark a major shift from the results of a similar poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org in late 2007, not long after the Pakistani army flushed out Islamist militants who had taken control of the Red Mosque complex in the heart of Islambad. More than 100 died in the raid, including dozens of suspected militants and at least 10 troops. Some 64 percent said the raid was a mistake while only 22 percent supported the decision. A 60 percent majority believed that sharia should play a larger role in Pakistani law than it did at the time.
(Photo: Anti-Taliban rally in Lahore, 19 June 2009/Mohsin Raza)
Another poll, by the International Republican Institute, relativises this shift a bit. Conducted in March, before the height of the Taliban-army clash in Swat and the video of Taliban flogging a teenage local girl that reportedly turned Pakistani opinion against the militants, it shows more sympathy for the Taliban’s sharia demands. While 74 percent said religious extremism was a problem in Pakistan, 80 percent supported the introduction of sharia in Swat and 72 percent supported the government peace deal with the Taliban there. Some 56 percent said they would support the Taliban if they demanded sharia in other cities such as Karachi, Multan, Quetta or Lahore.
The relationship between traditional religious views and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is so complex that I’m not sure any poll gives a very accurate picture. Unfortunately, neither poll examined in greater detail what those polled thought about sharia and how much of it should be applied in Pakistan. Does anyone have other poll results that give what they think is a better picture?
UPDATE (July 2) Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times saying: “The Pakistani public, army and government have suddenly awakened to the Taliban threat. That is a crucial first step. But it will need strong international support to effectively respond.”