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A radical turnabout in Pakistan

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In a new nationwide survey conducted last month, Pakistani public support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and other radical Islamist groups has plummeted by half – all the way down to the teens and single digits. The bottom has fallen out for support of the radicals.

If Al Qaeda had appeared on the ballot as a political party in the election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would have voted for them. The Taliban would have drawn just 3 percent of the vote.

Even in areas near or in their home base, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are losing public support. Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have sunk to single digits. In August, 70 percent of the population of this region expressed a favorable opinion of bin Laden. Today just 4 percent do.

Indeed, these survey results mirror the stinging defeat of the Islamist parties at the hands of the voters in the North-West Frontier Province. The religious parties were big losers there, winning just nine seats in the provincial assembly, as opposed to 67 in the 2002 elections.

Given the public's dramatic turnaround against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly in their home base, there is a singular opportunity for a Pakistani government with the support of the people to have the legitimacy to mount an effective campaign against the terrorists.

The public's turn against the radicals was accompanied by an equally stunning move toward Pakistan's moderate, secular political parties. In TFT's August survey, only 39 percent backed the principal moderate political parties. In our January pre-election survey, 62 percent said they intended to vote for the moderate political parties in the Feb. 18 elections.

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