Insights and Analysis

Afghanistan is Not Iraq … Just Ask the Afghan People

November 19, 2014

By Karl Eikenberry

The recently manifested massive failure of America’s intervention in Iraq has led outside observers to speculate that the ongoing rapid drawdown of international military forces in Afghanistan will lead to similar chaos in that country.

Ahmed Rashid, a respected commentator on Afghanistan security issues and author of the superb book Taliban, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed that the U.S. troop withdrawal plan formulated in 2009 “is proving catastrophically wrong now.” Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham warned two months ago: “If the President repeats his mistakes from Iraq and withdraws all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, based on a certain date on a calendar, we fear a similar failure will unfold … as we have seen Iraq.”

The Asia Foundation’s just-released 2014 Survey of the Afghan People, however, indicates that while the Afghans do worry about the future of their country, they by no means share the deep pessimism of the foreign prophets of doom who assert that it is only a matter of time until the disaster on the Euphrates is repeated on the Kabul River. Comparing the attitudes of the Afghan and Iraqi people on key political, security, and economic issues helps explain why this is so.

The Asia Foundation’s annual survey, first conducted in 2004 – less than three years after the fall of the Taliban – is the longest running and broadest nationwide poll of Afghan attitudes and opinions, this year including interviews of over 9,000 citizens from all 34 of the country’s provinces. While there is no single polling of the Iraqi people similar in regularity and scope, there have been several surveys conducted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that do permit credible cross-country analysis. Three striking differences are evident when comparing results.

First, the Afghan people have a far higher degree of trust in their security forces – army and police – than do their Iraqi counterparts. Some 86 percent of the Afghan people interviewed in this year’s Asia Foundation survey expressed confidence in their national army, and 73 percent in their national police force.

Read the full piece, originally published by Foreign Policy.

Asia Foundation trustee Karl W. Eikenberry is the William J. Perry fellow in international security at Stanford University and a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.


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