WASHINGTON: Despite a wave of violence, an overwhelming majority of Afghans believe their government is in control of the country and oppose a return to the Taliban, a survey said Monday.
The study comes as concern mounts in the West for Afghanistan’s future. The United States is preparing to withdraw most of its troops this year, ending a war launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But the survey by the firm ATR Consulting found that 80 percent of Afghans thought that the government was in control with similarly strong levels of trust in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, two institutions rebuilt after the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime.
“This was surprising to us. We had a lot of assumptions before starting this study,” said Lola Cecchinel, a French expert on Afghanistan who heads research for ATR Consulting.
“There is a widespread narrative about Afghanistan, about there not being any progress in the past 11 years. A lot of people are saying that the country is going to fall apart,” she said as she presented the study at the Center for National Policy, a Washington think tank.
She said that outsiders’ perceptions of security may be colored by high-profile attacks in Kabul, including an assault last month on a popular Lebanese restaurant that left dead 21 people, including 13 foreigners. By contrast, the findings showed “extremely high” levels of trust in national institutions and wide agreement that progress has been made since the Western-backed government took over from the Taliban.
Only 12.7 percent of men — and just 1.6 percent of women — supported a return of Taliban rule across Afghanistan. The Taliban imposed an austere brand of Islam during its 1996-2001 regime, including depriving women of virtually all activities outside the house.
While largely supporting peace talks with the Taliban, nearly half of Afghans said that the insurgents were “puppets of other countries” — most commonly a reference to Pakistan, which supported the fallen regime. But the survey showed regional differences, with support for the Taliban higher in the movement’s historic base of the Pashtun-dominated South. While 73 percent of northern Afghans said their lives have improved over the past decade, only 29 percent said so in the south.
The survey aimed to be as comprehensive as possible through in-person interviews with 3,038 Afghan men and 1,180 women across geographic and ethnic lines in September and October. The pollsters were Afghans chosen for their ability to access areas and ask sensitive questions.
“We have this very big cliche about Afghans taking tea and discussing, but it’s the way it works,” Cecchinel said.
The interviews took place before Afghan President Hamid Karzai — who is trying to seek a peace deal with the Taliban as he leaves office — rebuffed the United States on signing an agreement to allow a smaller number of US troops to stay from 2015. The consulting firm carried out a separate telephone poll that found that 68 percent of Afghans supported the deal with the United States, Cecchinel said.
Anne Jasim-Falher, founder and director of ATR Consulting, cautioned that Afghan statements on government control were “very complex” as many tribal residents at the same time wanted a limited presence of Kabul.
“It’s so personality-based at the district level. The government or the Taliban is good or is bad depending on whether this person is respectful to you,” she said.
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