What Afghans Think – And What They Know

Polling Afghanistan

A new poll shows that "Afghans are more pessimistic about the direction of their country, less confident in the ability of the United States and its allies to provide security and more willing to negotiate with the Taliban than they were a year ago." At the same time, trends are positive in Helmand and Kandahar, the two provinces targeted by the surge.

The poll, conducted in Dari and Pasto in all 34 provinces from 29 October through 13 November and commissioned by Washington Post, ABC News, the BBC, and Germany’s ARD, "bolster[s] claims by senior U.S. military officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander, that the application of greater combat power and civilian assistance is starting to make a difference. But the results also lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government," contend Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jon Cohen of the Post.

Among the highlights:  

  • 59 percent think things are moving in the right direction, contrasted with 70 percent last December and 77 percent in October 2005 — but way up from 40 percent in January 2009.
  • Security (37%), the economy (28%), and weak government/corruption (14%) are cited as the biggest problems facing the country.
  • Most questions about personal living conditions — security, crime, jobs, infrastructure, etc. — are trending downward year after year.
  • 65 percent think things will be better for themselves a year from now — a decline from the previous poll but higher than polls before that.
  • 56 percent think their children will have a better life, down slightly from last December but up slightly from previous polls.
  • 62 percent give Hamid Karzai high marks, with provincial government, police, and army getting even higher ratings
  • The United States and NATO, by contrast, get only 32 percent and 31 percent approval
  • But 62 percent support continued US and 54 percent support continued NATO prsence!
  • A whopping 86 percent would prefer to be ruled by the present government than the Taliban, a number roughly consistent with all past polls
  • But only 74 percent think it good that US forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, down from 87 percent in 2005 and 83 percent last December
  • Blame for violence is distributed between the Taliban (33%), al Qaeda and foreign jihadis (20%), US forces (14%), with many others in single digits
  • 63 percent say cultivation of poppies for opium is "unacceptable in all cases"

From a public relations and information operations standpoints, it’s notable that only small minorities (less than a third) of Afghans are aware that the Taliban are killing individuals, setting off bombs, or burning schools and government buildings. Then again, a recent survey conducted by the International Council on Security and Development found that 92 percent of Afghans were completely unaware of the 9/11 attacks, much less their role in launching the American invasion into their country.  

Clearly, gaining the trust of a developing world population that’s been under siege for three decades has its challenges.  But it’s truly remarkable that, after nearly a decade of fighting against a force that the locals despise, the fact that they don’t even know why we’re there is a sign that someone needs to do a better job of communication.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.






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