Insights and Analysis

Life Under Armed Opposition Groups in Afghanistan

November 15, 2017

By Tabasum Akseer and Sayed Masood Sadat

While Afghanistan has made progress in the past three decades toward achieving democracy and stability, this progress is stunted by the presence and destruction brought on by rebel groups, or armed opposition groups (AOGs). In fact, despite the progress made in key areas, such as the economy, human rights, and women’s rights, the destruction brought on by AOGs casts a dark shadow of regression. 

In the just-launched 2017 Survey of the Afghan People, we asked over 10,012 people about their perception of various indicators that can help us understand the impact of living under areas controlled by AOGs. Here’s a snapshot of what we found.

1. National Mood
This year, 431 Afghans across all eight regions reported living under AOG rule. According to the survey, these respondents have a considerably higher level of pessimism and lower level of optimism, compared to others. Living under the AOG rule, 77.9 percent of Afghans report pessimism about their country, compared to 60.9 percent living under the rule of Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army (ANA), and Afghan Local Police (ALP). Surprisingly, despite a higher level of pessimism, respondents living under the rule of AOGs are less likely to express a desire to migrate. This is perhaps attributed to strong barriers such as a lack of access to information and awareness, lower level of education, and poor economic prospects outside of their immediate area.   

2. Security
This year, Afghans expressed the highest level of fear for personal safety, reaching 70.7 percent, an increase from 39.6 percent in 2006. Level of sympathy with AOGs also fell from 21.6 percent to 5.5 percent between 2009 and 2016. In 2017, only 4.8 percent of respondents expressed sympathy for the Taliban. Interestingly, despite that hose living under AOG rule experiencing a higher level of fear for personal safety, they have a much higher level of sympathy with the AOGs (42.0%). The high level of sympathy with the Taliban in areas controlled by AOGs could be due to a fear of retaliation for showing less sympathy (social desirability) to the group while living under their rule. Very few respondents expressed sympathy with the ISIS/Daesh (0.9%).

Almost a third of respondents living under AOGs report always having fear for personal safety or family members’ safety (31.3%). This is more than double the level of fear expressed by respondents from areas controlled by Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan Local Police (ALP), and Afghan National Army (ANA).

The survey also found that the fear of encountering the Taliban is higher among respondents living in areas under ANA, ALP, or ANP control, rather than areas controlled by AOGs. This could potentially be due to the desensitization of seeing AOGs on a daily basis. On the other hand, fear of ISIS/Daesh is high in all areas, including those controlled by AOGs. 

Respondents in AOG-controlled areas report a considerably higher number of crimes occurring to their family in the past year. This rate has almost double compared to areas under the ANP, ALP, and ANA. Furthermore, the occurrence of crime appears to be rising, with almost a 50 percent increase between 2014 and 2017.  

3. Economy
All respondents cite the economy, which has been deteriorating in the past few years, as a main concern. This year, a third of respondents say their financial situation has worsened since last year. And in areas controlled by AOGs, the picture is even more bleak, with over half of respondents saying their financial situation is worse this year (53.2%). The overall employment situation has weakened this year with more than half of Afghans saying it is has gotten worse (58.1%); this is even more significant among those living under AOG-controlled areas (70.3%). 

4. Freedom of Speech
The majority of those living under the rule of AOGs express having fear in participating in a peaceful demonstration, which might be expected given their authoritarian form of government (53.4%). Fear of participation in a peaceful demonstration is high in other areas too, which might be due to multiple recent attacks on peaceful protestors

Overall, respondents report a high level of fear for participating in elections, which is more pronounced in areas where the AOGs are reported to provide security. This finding is particularly important as the country prepares for prospective parliamentary elections in July 2018.

5. Access to Information
The survey also found that areas controlled under the AOGs have considerably limited access to TV, mobile, and internet, and the most commonly used means of acquiring news and information is still radio at 71.6 percent.  

6. Women’s Rights
Despite massive investments focused on Afghan women, securing women’s rights still remain a challenge. This is particularly the case in the areas controlled under the AOGs, where women are more restricted from accessing education, work, and other social activities.

Respondents living under the AOGs to some extent reflect this reality. For instance, the majority of respondents living under the AOGs said they disagree with women working outside, having equal education opportunity, being entitled to father’s inheritance, and making independent decision in elections. They are also more supportive of young marriage age for women and men. However, there is little difference in support for practices of baad and baddal

Download the full survey on The Asia Foundation’s website. 

Tabasum Akseer is The Asia Foundation’s Survey of the Afghan People acting director and Sayed Masood Sadat is the Foundation’s Data and Research analyst. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


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