Survey Reveals How Much Afghans Want Peace and Stability
November 10, 2010
The Asia Foundation released its annual survey Afghanistan in 2010: A Survey of the Afghan People on November 9 in Kabul. To reflect current trends and perceptions, we added a new chapter to this year’s survey to capture Afghans’ perception on their government’s efforts at reconciliation: and the results were that Afghans are surprisingly sympathetic.
The survey asked respondents whether they approve or disapprove of the current government’s efforts at negotiation and reconciliation with armed anti-government elements. A large majority of respondents (83%) say they approve of these efforts, with 42 percent strongly in favor and 41 percent somewhat in favor. The level of support for reconciliation with armed opposition groups has risen significantly since 2009 when less than three quarters of respondents (71%) said they approved. This rise could suggest that an increasing proportion of the Afghan public favors a political solution to the ongoing conflict in the country, rather than a purely military one.
The responses given by different ethnic respondents were – in some ways – surprising, but in some ways, are in line with what one can expect from a nation facing three decades of conflict.
Some may find Afghans’ sympathy to opposition forces surprising, assuming that Afghans – jaded by war – would not consider peace and reconciliation as an option. Others may think that the conflict in the country is based on ethnic rivalries, and that some ethnic groups who are enjoying a time of power would not be willing to risk losing it through reconciliation. But the survey responses did not support these kinds of hypotheses. Instead, 83 percent of respondents – up from 71 percent last year – supported government talks with armed opposition groups. There were some small differences between those who live in war-affected regions and those who live in more secure regions, but the difference is minor. For example, in the Central/Hazarajat region 78 percent of respondents said they supported government peace talks with opposition groups – the lowest among all regions, but still four-fifths of those surveyed said they were supportive. To me, an Afghan citizen living and working in Kabul and well attuned to current sentiments, the increase in support points to Afghans’ desire for peace and stability in their country.
As news reports warn of the insurgency spreading to the North East and North West regions, 55 percent of Afghans said they had no sympathy for the insurgency this year, up from 36 percent last year. This is another indicator that the majority of Afghans no longer have sympathy for motives that might cost them peace and stability. However, notably, in less secure areas, such as in the South West (52%), South East (50%) and West (50%), sympathy for the motives of armed opposition groups is higher.
This strong support for peace talks with insurgents reinforces the feelings a majority of Afghans hold for peace and stability and their willingness to do almost anything to get it. This also serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the Afghan conflict that most Afghans now believe peace and stability cannot be achieved through war, but rather through negotiation and reconciliation with armed opposition groups. Such a reminder echoes an old Afghan proverb: “blood cannot be cleaned by blood.”
Mohammad Osman Tariq, The Asia Foundation’s director of Islam & Development in Kabul, is co-author of the 6th annual Survey of the Afghan People. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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