Amid all the gloom and doom on Afghanistan, there are some signs that the United States and NATO may be making some progress in winning the hearts and minds of the local population. An opinion poll of over 1,554 Afghans conducted for ABC News, the BBC and ARD, the first German television channel, by the Kabul-based Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research last month found increasing optimism among Afghans.
Seventy per cent of those questioned believed Afghanistan was heading in the right direction, compared to 40% a year ago. Sixty-eight per cent supported the presence of US troops in their country, compared to 62% a year ago, and 62% supported the NATO troop presence, up from 59% in 2009.
Ninety per cent wanted Afghanistan to be run by the current government of President Hamid Karzai, compared with 6% favouring the possibility of a Taliban administration. Seventy-two percent of Afghans rated Karzai as excellent or good, compared with 52% a year ago, and 60% rated the performance of the present government as good or excellent and 10% thought it was poor.
Sixty-nine per cent believed the Taliban posed the biggest danger to the country, and 66% blamed the Taliban, al Qaeda and foreign fighters for violence in Afghanistan.
Eighty-three per cent of those surveyed thought it was very good or mostly good that US forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 to drive out the Taliban, compared to 69% a year ago. But 43% considered the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be worse at avoiding civilian casualties and only 24% thought it was better at doing so. Twenty-two percent wanted ISAF to withdraw within the next 18 months, while 21% said it should stay longer.
ARD commented that the results of the poll are not in line with the pessimism reigning in the United States and Europe, which are planning their withdrawals from Afghanistan. The German TV channel broadcast a report last night painting a picture of an Afghanistan in which warlords oppress the local population, children are sold or held for ransom, and ISAF pays these same warlords to stop attacks on its convoys.