The Asia Foundation released its ninth survey of the Afghan people last week in Kabul; the poll includes a sweeping look at Afghan attitudes toward security, governance, economic conditions and political participation. With presidential elections scheduled for 2014, the July 2013 survey found an increasing percentage of Afghans saying that the country is going in the right direction (57%). But fewer than half express confidence in a range of political institutions including government ministers (45%), parliament (46%), and the court system (43%), and these ratings are at an eight-year-low. A majority of Afghans are still confident in provincial and community level organizations, but at lower levels than in prior years.
Majority Are Optimistic that Results of Presidential Election Will Improve Their Lives
Despite the controversies and election fraud during the last presidential election in 2009, a majority of Afghans say that in general elections in Afghanistan are free and fair (61%; 35% disagree). Those who believe the elections are generally not "legit" cite corruption - in counting the votes, the electoral process, and in vote buying - and security issues as the main reasons. A majority (56%) also expect the elections will make their lives betters, though a substantial minority say it will either make no difference (24%) or make their lives worse (15%).
Many remain fearful of venturing out to polling stations. Six in ten Afghans said they would have "some or a lot of fear" if they vote in a national or provincial election, up considerably since the question was first asked in 2006. Fear is highest in the South West, South East, and Western regions of the country, and among Pashtuns. Election observers from Democracy International found that security concerns in the South contributed to limited accessibility in the 2009 election, particularly for women. Eight in ten say that security conditions are a factor in whether they will travel to polling stations to vote on election day.
Source: The Asia Foundation
Broad Confidence in Afghan Security Forces; One in Three Sympathizes with Armed Opposition
With US forces withdrawing in 2014 and no security agreement yet signed, a large majority of Afghans express confidence in the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police (ANP) "to be honest and fair with the Afghan people" and to "help improve security." They are also confident that the ANP "is efficient at arresting those who have committed crimes." Only about one in three (35%) have sympathy for "armed opposition groups," down from 56 percent in 2009.
Six in ten (63%) agree that reconciliation efforts between the government and armed opposition groups can stabilize the country, with this support largely concentrated around the provinces that border Pakistan (70-88%). The report notes that residents in the central provinces of Panjshir and Parwan and the western provinces of Ghor and Herat are least likely to support efforts at reconciliation (between 17-50%).
The Asia Foundation and ACSOR, the polling organization carrying out the fieldwork, interviewed more than 9000 respondents nationwide for this survey - a huge effort for this nationwide poll. The topics are wide-ranging and comprehensive in scope. But I kept hoping for answers to questions not asked: How do Afghans feel about US troops withdrawing? Do they think the ANA can deliver security without assistance from US forces? What are their views on the bilateral security agreement and the possibility of the zero option? What are their impressions of Karzai and his performance? Whom would they like to see as his successor? How would they feel about a power sharing arrangement with the Taliban, if negotiations ever restart?
At least in the publicly released results, I didn't see answers to these critical questions. My takeaway from these findings is that if Afghans say they are fearful voting in July when the survey was fielded, they probably aren't going to feel much safer when US forces are gone. And that has big implications for voting turnout and the ultimate credibility of the next elections.