Peacekeeping: Polling Afghan Opinion

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March 17, 2010: Last December, a nationwide opinion survey in Afghanistan found that 11 percent of the districts were inaccessible for security reasons (Taliban or bandits.) Interviews there were replaced by random draw method. Overall, pollsters were able to contact 89 percent of the people they were looking for, and 92 percent of those cooperated. The purpose of the survey (which consisted of half hour interviews conducted by Afghan pollsters), was mainly to determine what impact peacekeeping and reconstruction operations were having.

The poll found that 70 percent of Afghans thought the country was moving in the right direction. In 2005, it was 77 percent. Then the Taliban sought to make their heroin subsidized comeback. In 2006 it went to 55 percent, then 54 percent in 2007 and 40 percent last year.

This survey showed that 70 percent believed that their lives would be better in the next year, and 60 percent expected their children to have a better life than their parents. While the government is widely criticized for corruption and inefficiency, 60 percent were satisfied with it (up 12 percent in the last year.)

The impact of fewer civilian deaths caused by foreign troops (down 28 percent, to 596 in 2009 compared to 2008) and the Taliban (up 45 percent to 1,681) resulted in a shift in who was blamed for the most violence. In 2007, 36 percent of Afghans blamed the foreign troops, and 26 percent the Taliban. The recent survey had 42 percent blaming the Taliban and 17 percent the foreign troops. In both years, about 26 percent blamed both.

Those who experienced violence, did so from a large variety of sources. About a quarter were victims of suicide bombs. Another 23 percent encountered snipers and 29 percent were kidnapped. The Afghan army and police caused 15 percent of the violent situations, and foreign troops 21 percent. Foreign aircraft bombings caused 16 percent. The Taliban alone (in addition to suicide attacks) caused 25 percent. A lot of the violence was banditry, the sort of violence that has long been the curse of Afghan life.

Support for the American presence in Afghanistan has gone down from 78 percent in 2006, to 63 percent in 2008 and 68 percent now. Afghans prefer Afghan security forces coming in to pacify the situation (69 percent, compared to 45 percent for foreign troops.)

The survey also reflected the fact that most of the violence (about two thirds) occurs along the Pakistan border. Thus in most of Afghanistan, where there is little fighting, 78 percent of Afghans support the presence of American forces, while only about 40 percent do so in the violent areas. Despite all the fighting, only six percent of the population would prefer that the Taliban ran the country. About ten percent have a favorable view of the Taliban (and their promise to bring peace and end corruption, something they didn't do when they ran the country in the 1990s.) Thus it's no surprise that 69 percent see the Taliban as the biggest threat to the country (compared to 41 percent five years ago.) While 30 percent see the Taliban as getting stronger now, it was 42 percent three years ago. Now, 83 percent see the American goal, of crushing the Taliban, favorably, compared to 87 percent in 2005 (and 69 percent a year ago). While 65 percent prefer a negotiated peace with the Taliban, that goes up to 77 percent if the Taliban stop fighting. Currently, 41 percent believe the government will win the war, while ten percent believe the Taliban will prevail. A third believe there will be negotiations and 12 percent that the fighting will go on. 

At the grassroots, democracy has caught on, with 82 percent believing that it will work, and 75 percent satisfied with the outcomes of elections. The biggest problem is corruption, with 95 percent seeing that as a problem in their area. Perhaps because of that, 43 percent prefer an Islamic state (with voting), 32 percent a non-religious democracy and 23 percent a dictatorship of some sort (a "strong leader.")

Economic development is the most important factor in better attitudes. Only 56 percent have any formal education (which often does not lead to literacy) and 44 percent have no electric power service. Only 81 percent of men, and seven percent of women, have jobs. But people are connected, with 81 percent have access to radio, and 47 percent to television. In the last five years, cell phone ownership has gone from 31 percent to 60 percent.

The drug (mainly opium and heroin) business is acceptable to 59 percent of those in Helmand province (where most of these drugs are produced), but that is down from 88 percent a year ago. In the other 33 other provinces, only 29 percent see it as acceptable.

 


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