Cablegate: Polls Show Afghans Optimistic, Concerned About

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1. (SBU) Three polls released this fall suggest, contrary to
many international press reports, that Afghans continue to
feel that their country is headed in the right direction,
with little change in attitudes from a year ago. The most
pronounced difference over last year is a rise in perceptions
of insecurity, more due to lawlessness and crime than
terrorism and insurgents. These latter concerns remain
paramount in the south. Nationally and especially at the
local level, Afghans stress the importance of development,
particularly electricity, employment, water, education, and
roads. Despite concern with corruption, the Afghan
government gets relatively high marks -- especially for
health and education. The polls collectively suggest a
realistic leveling-off of expectations for the future, a
durable desire for improved economic opportunity, and a
renewed concern with security and public safety following a
summer of increased crime and terrorist attacks designed to
instill fear in the population. The poll results suggest
that daily international media coverage of Afghanistan paints
a more negative picture than that held by the Afghans
themselves. End Summary.

Optimism, But Concern with Security and Economy
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) Three national polls released in fall 2007 show
increasing concerns with security relative to previous years,
but stable hopes for the future. The polls -- conducted by
the Asia Foundation (TAF), Environics, and MRA -- cover all
34 provinces and are based on results gathered in summer
2007, a period which saw a rise in insurgent violence,
particularly in the south and east.

3. (SBU) The Asia Foundation's (TAF) "Afghanistan in 2007: A
Survey of the Afghan People," funded by USAID, is the largest
comprehensive opinion poll ever conducted in Afghanistan with
a sample of 6,232 taken in June 2007. The TAF poll concludes
that "the mood of the country continues to be optimistic"
with 42 percent of Afghans believing that their country is
moving in the right direction and 24 percent in the wrong
direction (statistically the same as the 44 percent of
positive respondents in 2006). Reconstruction was cited as
the single largest reason for this optimism (39 percent),
followed by good security (34 percent). Those who think the
country is not moving in the right direction overwhelmingly
cited insecurity (48 percent) followed by different aspects
of weaknesses in governance and the economy.

4. (SBU) Environics' "2007 Survey of Afghans," the first
national poll commissioned by the Government of Canada,
sampled 1,578 Afghans from September 17-24, with a particular
focus on Kandahar. Similar to the TAF results, the
Environics poll showed that 51 percent of Afghans believe
their country is going in the right direction, with 28
percent saying it is headed in the wrong direction. The
optimists cite security, reconstruction, disarmament, and
schools for girls, while the pessimists cite lack of security
and safety, and a poor economy. The Environics poll suggests
that 60 percent of Afghans feel personally better off today
than in 2002, but they are somewhat less apt to believe they
are better off than they were a year ago (36 percent). Over
two out of three Afghans feel that foreign countries are
doing a good job of fighting the Taliban (64 percent
positive, 17 percent negative), providing reconstruction
assistance (65 percent positive, 15 percent negative), and
training the army and police (75 percent positive, 9 percent

5. (SBU) These results are largely consistent with MRA's
fifth "Afghan National Development Poll" commissioned by
Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A),
which sampled 5,310 nation-wide households in July 2007. The
poll shows that there has been a gradual downward trend for
optimism after a sharp drop following the parliamentary

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elections in 2005, leveling off at around 50 percent.

Security: Increasing Concern with Public Safety
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (SBU) The three polls suggest that worries about
criminality and other public safety issues increased across
the country, with insurgent-related security a top concern in
the south and east. The TAF poll showed that 46 percent of
Afghans think that security is the biggest problem facing the
country (up from 27 percent last year), followed by 29
percent for unemployment, reversing the order of these
concerns from last year. Two out of three Afghans rated the
security situation in their area as good, and one out of
three as bad, including a majority in the south. But about
42 percent felt the country is headed in the right direction,
a finding statistically consistent with last year's results.
Those who answered that the country is not headed in the
right direction blamed insecurity most. Respondents
identifying the Taliban or warlords as the biggest problem
facing the country are down from 32 percent last year to 17
percent this year, suggesting that the perception of reduced
security may be due to lawlessness and crime. The MRA poll
suggests that a majority of sources of insecurity are not due
directly to the insurgency and that they vary by region, with
criminality rising in the north, narcotics trafficking
prominent in the west, and the Taliban and Pakistan dominant
concerns in the south and east.

7. (SBU) Afghans show high levels of confidence in their
national security forces, especially the army. They welcome
the Coalition Forces, but more for their contribution to
development than to security. Both the TAF and Environics
samples yielded high marks to the Afghan Security Forces,
with 80 percent of respondents registering confidence in the
army (90 percent TAF, 84 percent Environics), and over 75
percent indicating confidence in the police (80 percent TAF,
76 percent Environics). The MRA poll shows that large
majorities of Afghans see the police as primarily responsible
for bringing security (84 percent in Kabul, 54 percent in the
north, and 66 percent in the west). These figures for police
drop to less than a quarter of respondents in the south and
less than 40 percent in the east, where local shuras are
credited with bringing security by about a quarter of
respondents (29 percent in the south and 22 percent in the
east), more than for the army or foreign forces. The
Environics poll showed that Afghans welcome the contribution
of Coalition Forces, with 60 percent describing the presence
of foreigners as good, 16 percent bad, and 22 percent equally
good and bad.

8. (SBU) Few Afghans support the insurgents or their methods,
but most Afghans support negotiations to bring about peace.
The Environics poll shows support for the Taliban at 14
percent, and 71 percent responded that suicide bombings are
never justified. However, 74 percent support negotiations
with the Taliban to end the fighting.

Development: A High Local Priority

9. (SBU) Following insecurity, which increased as a source of
concern in all polls, the TAF poll identified unemployment, a
poor economy, and corruption as the most difficult issues
facing Afghanistan. Economic development remained the
biggest concern at the local level, with respondents
identifying electricity, unemployment, water, education, and
roads (each at 10-15 percent), followed by security at 9
percent. Security remained the dominant concern in the south.

10. (SBU) According to the TAF poll, about half of Afghans
think that their families are more prosperous today than
under the Taliban (49 percent, compared to 54 percent in
2006), and just over a quarter feel they are less prosperous
(28 percent, statistically the same as last year's 26
percent). Pashtuns were twice as likely as Tajiks to
describe themselves as less prosperous today than under the

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Taliban (20 percent for Pashtuns, 10 percent for Tajiks).
About 40 percent of respondents of all ethnicities in the
south described themselves as less prosperous today than
under the Taliban. Compared to two years ago, over half of
respondents said access to schools has improved (51 percent),
and just under half said the health situation of their family
has improved (43 percent).

Governance: Confidence in Government, But Corrupt
--------------------------------------------- -----

11. (SBU) Afghans indicated a high degree of confidence in
the national government's performance in key areas, with 80
percent of the TAF sample indicating that the government is
doing a very good or somewhat good job, particularly on
education and health. Respondents felt the government is
delivering a sub-par performance on employment, economic
revival, and corruption. The Environics poll showed
similarly high approval ratings, with 71 percent very or
somewhat positive in their opinion of the Karzai government,
versus 20 percent who are negative. The MRA poll shows that
nearly two out of three Afghans believe that their government
will be able to bring security, jobs, and reconstruction in
the next few years, with a majority in all regions. The TAF
poll showed the highest level of confidence in the Afghan
National Security Forces, followed by electronic media,
tribal and provincial councils, international NGOs, and
Community Development Councils (CDCs). Afghans prefer
traditional justice mechanisms to the formal system, and
distrust political parties and militias; fewer than half of
respondents expressed confidence in these institutions.

12. (SBU) While the government is perceived to be effective,
Afghans also consider it corrupt. The TAF sample shows that
57 percent of Afghans believe that national corruption has
worsened in the past year. Perception of the prevalence of
corruption was higher at the the national level (74 percent
of respondents) than at the provincial (60 percent) or local
levels (48 percent), which may be explained in part by the
feeling among Afghans that the central government is distant
from their daily lives and the difficulty they have in
linking large foreign aid flows to specific local benefits.

13. (SBU) Afghans oppose poppy production, but they do not
blame it for the problems Afghanistan is facing. A large
majority of Afghans felt cultivation of opium poppies was
wrong (80 percent), half of those saying their opposition was
based on religious concerns. Less than 10 percent linked
poppies to terrorism, insecurity, or corruption.

Durable Optimism, Consistent Priorities

14. (SBU) These polls collectively suggest a leveling-off of
expectations consistent with a country struggling with
poverty and insecurity six years after the euphoria that
accompanied the fall of the Taliban. Afghans respond like a
poor country with high expectations for the future, rather
than a downtrodden country at war, except in the south where
the insurgency remains the dominant concern. But they are
also the views of the population at large, not the
politically aware or active elite.


© Scoop Media

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