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Monday, January 25, 2010

Turning the Tide: Opinion Polls from Afghanistan by Dr. Jack Kem

There have been a number of recent surveys and reports that have released in the past two weeks concerning the situation in Afghanistan. One of the most prominent surveys was conducted for ABC News, the BBC and ARD by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research (ACSOR) based in Kabul. This poll surveyed a random national sample 1,534 Afghan adults from 11-23 December, 2009.

ABC News published an analysis of the poll by Gary Langer entitled “Views Improve Sharply in Afghanistan, Though Criticisms of the U.S. Stay High” on January 11, 2013:

Hopes for a brighter future have soared in Afghanistan, bolstered by a broad rally in support for the country's re-elected president, improved development efforts and economic gains. Blame on the United States and NATO for violence has eased – but their overall ratings remain weak.

In one key shift, the latest poll by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV finds that sharply more Afghans now see the Taliban as the main source of their country's strife, while many fewer blame the United States or its allies – significant progress in a central aim of the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

In this poll, the first question asked the simple question “Generally speaking, do you think things in Afghanistan today are going in the right direction, or do you think they are going in the wrong direction?” The answers to this question were striking; last year, 40% of the respondents answered that things were going in the right direction; in this most recent poll, 70% responded that things were going in the right direction – an increase of 30%. Bottom line – most Afghans think things are getting better.

Another interesting question (question #18) asked “Who do you blame the most for the violence that is occurring in the country?” Last year the top two answers were “Taliban” and “Al Qaeda/foreign jihadis” with responses of 27% and 22% respectively, for a total of 49%. In this most recent poll, the two top answers remained “Taliban” and “Al Qaeda/foreign jihadis” with responses of 42% and 24% respectively, for a total of 66%. Bottom line – most Afghans blame the Taliban and Al Qaeda/foreign jihadis for the violence.

Two of the questions on the poll were directed at reconciliation and reintegration with the Taliban. The first of these questions (#21) asked “Do you think the government in Kabul should negotiate a settlement with Afghan Taliban in which they are allowed to hold political offices if they agree to stop fighting, or do you think the government in Kabul should continue to fight the Taliban and not enter into these negotiations?” The answers from last year and this year were very similar; last year, 64% of the respondents indicated the government should negotiate a settlement; in this most recent poll, 65% were in favor of a negotiated settlement.

Question #22 asked a related question: “Do you think the government should negotiate only if the Taliban first stop fighting, or negotiate even as fighting continues?” Last year, 71% responded “Negotiate only if the Taliban stop fighting” – in this most recent poll, 76% responded the same. Bottom line – most Afghans are willing to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban – but only if they stop fighting first.

Not all of the information from the polls was positive. One of the areas that has been emphasized from ISAF has been the focus on controlling civilian casualties. Question #34 addresses this question: “When civilians are harmed in U.S. and NATO/ISAF air strikes, who do you mainly blame?” Last year, the answers were 41% blamed U.S and NATO/ISAF forces for mistaken targeting; 28% blamed anti-government forces for being among civilians; and 27% blamed both sides equally. In this recent poll, the responses were 36% blamed U.S and NATO/ISAF forces for mistaken targeting; 35% blamed anti-government forces for being among civilians; and 26% blamed both sides equally. Bottom line – Afghans blame both U.S. and NATO/ISAF forces and anti-government forces almost equally for civilian casualties.

The press release for the poll from the BBC News gave the following summary:

A national opinion poll in Afghanistan has recorded results dramatically different from a year ago, suggesting that Afghans feel much better about their lives and increasingly confident about the future. Support for the re-elected President Karzai has rallied, the Taliban remain deeply unpopular, and there has been a softening of attitudes towards foreign troops.

Bulletproof by Clayton Perce

I always appreciate seeing the Afghan national flag flying from a building or tower. To me, it represents a symbolic acknowledgement that Afghanistan is more than just a loose collection of tribes…that there’s a real nation here, proud and strong.

There are conflicting descriptions of what the colors represent, but I like this one, paraphrased from Flags of the World:

The three colours of the flag represent a different page in the history of Afghanistan. The black represents the 19th century era when Afghanistan was occupied and did not have independence, red marks the fight for independence and the green shows independence had been achieved.

Additionally, the colors have specific meanings within the Islamic faith. We’re taught that green stands for service to God, red for sacrifice, and black for martyrdom.

I see these colors symbolic of the members of the Afghan National Security Forces and the Coalition serving here in Afghanistan as well. To me, the green vertical represents service writ large…service to each other, our families, our Service, our nations, and the God of our choosing. The red vertical is the sacrifices we make in order to build Afghanistan and protect its people…for some, a blood sacrifice. And the black signifies those who have given their lives for Afghanistan…445 Coalition members and 1,030 Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army members in 2009 alone.

Bottom line: Strips of cloth can be damaged easily, especially in a country like Afghanistan. But a flag represents an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.