In The News

New York Times: Listen to the Afghan People

November 18, 2009

With Hamid Karzai declared the winner of Afghanistan’s highly controversial presidential election, President Obama’s decision regarding future U.S. policy toward that country is considered imminent. As part of his deliberations, Mr. Obama has received the assessment of his military commanders, the advice of his top civilian leaders, and the views of NATO allies, among others.

Now there is one more piece of information that should be added to this mix, namely what the Afghan people are thinking.

A recent survey directed by The Asia Foundation (and available at asiafoundation.org) is a snapshot of public opinion in Afghanistan. It shows a nation in conflict – and conflicted – about the direction it is heading.

Trained Afghan pollsters interviewed 6,400 Afghans, almost equally divided between male and female, in all 34 of the country’s provinces, just before the Aug. 20 presidential election. It is the fifth public opinion poll conducted by the Foundation since 2004 and therefore provides a valuable perspective on the trends in the national mood of Afghans over time.

The survey indicates that, in many parts of the country, there is a perception of some improvement. There is a small increase over the 2008 survey (from 38 to 42 percent) in the number of Afghans who think their country is moving in the right direction and a small decrease (from 32 to 29 percent) in those who think it is moving in the wrong direction.

The principal reason for this optimism appears to be a growing sense that security is getting better (up from 31 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2009). Other reasons include reconstruction and rebuilding and the opening of schools for girls. Understandably, these positive features are not present in the eastern and southern areas along the Pakistan border where the Taliban insurgency is the most pervasive.

Despite these glimmers of hope, insecurity remains the most important reason for Afghan pessimism, cited by 42 percent of those polled. Almost 20 percent say they or someone in their family have been victims of violence or crime the past year. Nearly 1 in 10 of these victims report that this was due to the actions of militias and insurgents or foreign forces. The latter includes air strikes and ground actions by U.S. and NATO forces that have resulted in civilian casualties and generated a strong backlash among the Afghan people.

Read the full piece originally published in The New York Times on November 12.

Asia Foundation trustee Karl Inderfurth is the former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and trustee Ted Eliot is a former Ambassador to Afghanistan.

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