A new poll covering all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces was released today by The Washington Post, ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD television. Let’s go over some of the polls main findings:
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, according to a new poll conducted in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Overall, the trends in the country are on a downward slope as faith in the Afghan central government and international presence are falling in the eyes of the Afghan populace. Nearly a year ago 70% of Afghans said they thought the country was heading in the ‘right direction’ while today only 59% say so. I guess I use the term ‘only’ loosely as less than 50% of Americans think we are on the right track. Nevertheless, this is not a positive development as faith in the Afghan government and international presence to bring about positive progress in the country is clearly fading.
On the bright side:
The new poll – conducted by The Washington Post, ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD television of Germany – found a particularly notable shift in public opinion in Helmand province, where Marines have been conducting intensive counterinsurgency operations. The number of people in Helmand describing their security as “good” jumped from 14 percent in a December 2009 poll to 67 percent now. Nearly two-thirds of Helmand residents now say Afghanistan is on the right track.
Bringing stability and security to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces is one of the key aspects of the American surge strategy and these numbers bring some hope. However, we have to be skeptical of any poll taken in an area under duress or serious instability. These numbers are also likely very fungible, that is, the situation can change to the other side quickly. This uptick in ‘good’ security could be because there are all of a sudden thousand of Americans troops hanging around town. These troops aren’t going to be there forever, heck, they may be for the most part gone in 2011.
About those American troops:
A year ago, 61 percent of Afghans supported the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. In the new poll, 49 percent support the move, with 49 percent opposed.
This obviously shows some disenchantment with how the surge has worked out so far. Not only have some Afghans become discouraged by the lack of progress in the stability/security realm, but others may have had their lives directly negatively impacted by a larger foreign troop presence (ie. night raids). The 49%, and high threshold of 61%, still shows that there is likely a plurality of Afghan citizens that want US troops to stay as long as they are making a more promising future for the locals.
Now on to the Taliban:
Afghans overwhelmingly prefer the current government over the Taliban, and almost three in four continue to say it was good that the U.S. military toppled the Taliban in 2001, although that number is nine points lower than it was a year ago.
9. Who would you rather have ruling Afghanistan today: the current government, or the Taliban?
Current government Taliban Other (vol.) No opinion 11/13/10 86 9 1 5 12/23/09 90 6 * 3 1/12/09 82 4 10 4 11/7/07 84 4 6 6 10/19/06 88 3 4 5 10/18/05 91 1 2 6
For the US, and in my opinion for an Afghanistan with a bright future, these numbers are inspiring. The Taliban had a chance to rule most of Afghanistan and they did so in one of the most brutal and totalitarian ways imaginable. Yes, they may bring a form of stability, but fear, poverty, and repression come along with it. However, it must be observed that the Taliban rule is on a slight rise, which brings me to my last observation from the poll:
Overall, nearly three-quarters of Afghans now believe their government should pursue negotiations with the Taliban, with almost two-thirds willing to accept a deal allowing Taliban leaders to hold political office. Nearly a third of adults see the Taliban as more moderate today than they were when they ruled the country.
The Afghans have lived lives of warfare for a majority of the past 30 years and it should surprise no one that most are willing to make tough to swallow deals for a more stable, fruitful future. The question’s ‘hold political office’ is obviously vague (Post Master General?) and leaves room for interpretation by the poll participant. It also does not surprise me that many Afghans are starting to see the Taliban as more moderate than when they ruled the country as with time, harsh memories become softer (while in no way comparing him to the Taliban!, just look at former President George W. Bush’s recent poll numbers). This is also an indictment on the Karzai administration’s failure to bring about any real substantive change for the better.
You can check out the whole poll here. What results shout out to you?