By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Most Pakistanis want their country to be a democratic Islamic state but are deeply distrustful of the United States and its war on terrorism, according to a poll released on Sunday.
Funded by the U.S. Institute of Peace, or USIP, the poll was taken in the nuclear-armed nation before President Pervez Musharraf’s six-week state of emergency and the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last month.
The results, released about six weeks before elections scheduled for Feb. 18, show that a large majority of Pakistanis see democracy as fully compatible with Islam, the pollsters said. Democracy ranked especially high among the 60 percent of respondents who wanted Muslim-based Sharia law to play a larger role in legal affairs.
"It shows there is no major Western-oriented secular sub-group in Pakistan. People want more Islam. They don’t think Pakistan is pious enough or that Islamic values are adequately expressed in daily life," said Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, a non-profit group affiliated with the University of Maryland that conducted the poll for USIP.
USIP is a non-partisan institution funded by Congress to address issues concerning international conflict.
The poll, which has a 3.3 percentage point margin of error, surveyed 907 adults in 19 Pakistani cities from Sept. 12-28. About 49 percent of the respondents were women.
Pakistan, which has been ruled by the military for more than half of the 61 years since independence in 1947, was under emergency rule from Nov. 3 to Dec. 15, imposed by Musharraf, then military chief as well as president, to combat what he said were threats from Islamic militants.
Kull said a large moderate middle-bloc of voters could be seen in the 64 percent of Pakistanis who said they support government reform of religious schools known as madrassas, which have been blamed for spreading Islamist militancy.
The poll showed that 59 percent of the public want to hold the line against the encroachment of conservative Muslim mores known as "Talibanization," he said.
SUPPORT FOR BIN LADEN
But the results also indicated support for Islamist militant groups including al Qaeda among substantial minorities of Pakistanis, and illustrated the huge challenge facing the Bush administration as it pursues relations with its key ally in its war on terrorism.
Over two-thirds of Pakistanis said they do not trust the United States to act responsibly in the world, while 70 percent believe definitely that it is a U.S. goal to weaken and divide the Islam.
About half disapproved of Pakistan’s relations with the United States and said Washington was in control of most or nearly all major events inside their country.
At least 60 percent of respondents agreed that al Qaeda and Taliban activities pose a threat to their country’s vital interests over the next 10 years. But more than 80 percent said the same of the U.S. military presence in Asia, including Afghanistan.
Thirty-one percent expressed a positive view of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, while another 19 percent had mixed feelings about him. Nearly 40 percent opposed capturing bin Laden if he were discovered inside Pakistan.
Fewer than one in four said Pakistan should use military force in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region analysts describe as a refuge for the Taliban and al Qaeda and a hub for militant attacks in Afghanistan.
Forty-six percent of respondents instead favored negotiating with the Taliban, while 12 percent said Pakistani forces should be withdrawn from the region.
More than three-quarters said foreign troops should not be allowed to pursue al Qaeda or Taliban fighters inside Pakistan.
Thirty percent of Pakistanis approved of Taliban attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan while another 18 percent had mixed feelings. Fifteen percent disapproved.
Nine percent said the current Afghan government had the best approach to governing Afghanistan, while 34 percent preferred the former Taliban regime.
(Editing by Eric Beech)