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2014 promises to be a turning point in Afghanistan, with a presidential election and the drawdown of U.S. forces in the country. The Asia Foundation recently completed a survey of 9,000 Afghan citizens in 34 provinces across the country. We explore evolving Afghan attitudes towards politics and security.
- Mark Kryzer Afghanistan Country Representative, The Asia Foundation
- Ali Latifi Producer, Al Jazeera English
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, preparing for a hot and crowded planet, a new book explores how population growth will affect the environment and politics around the world. But first, public opinion in Afghanistan. After more than 12 years of fighting, many Americans have grown pessimistic about the U.S. role in Afghanistan. Just 31 percent of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan had made us safer from terrorism, according to a recent poll by Pew and the Council on Foreign Relations.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnother Gallup Poll earlier this year found 80 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of the country, but what do Afghans think about the future after the U.S. draws down troops? Earlier this year, the Asia Foundation conducted a study of 9,000 Afghans across all 34 provinces. Join us to explore what was found in that study in Mark Kryzer. He is Afghanistan Country Representative for the Asia Foundation which helped oversee the recent poll of Afghan public opinion. He's worked in Kabul at a variety of development agencies for the last 10 years. He joins us in our Washington studio. Mark Kryzer, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARK KRYZERWell, thank you, Kojo. Nice to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Kabul, Afghanistan is Ali Latifi. He is a Producer with Al Jazeera English in Kabul. He is an Afghan American who has interviewed numerous young Afghans across the country and in Europe. He is, by the way, a former member of what we call around here Team Kojo. Ali Latifi, thank you so much for joining us. Hope to hear from you. Good to hear from you.
MR. ALI LATIFIHi Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIGood. Good, you're there. I just wanted to make sure you were. I'm gonna start with Mark Kryzer. Afghanistan is entering a critical phase over the next few months. A presidential election in April, the continued draw down of American troops, open questions about what role the U.S. will play after that date. The top headline from this poll is that all these developing stories have most Afghans worried. What did you find?
KRYZERI think, Kojo, if I had to signify this year's survey and give it a headline, so to speak, it would be most Afghans, moving into 2014, are apprehensive. They're fearful in certain areas. But for me, they're also surprisingly cautiously optimistic in other areas, as well.
NNAMDIWe know that there's been rising skepticism here in this country about international engagements, in general, and our ongoing commitment to Afghanistan in particular. From what I have heard, that skepticism about the American effort is shared, somewhat, in Afghanistan. Have you seen a marked change in Afghan attitudes towards Americans?
KRYZERI haven't, actually. One of the questions that we ask in the survey is among various donor countries, which one do you recognize, in terms of being the most helpful, in terms of development projects in your area? And it's an open ended question that we ask. We've been asking that for the last six or seven years, or so. And it's interesting, the recognition of the U.S. as being the largest donor, in terms of assisting development projects at the local level, is the most recognized. The bottom of the list, unfortunately, is Australia, which has also made a significant contribution to development in Afghanistan.
KRYZERBut the list recognizes, Afghans recognize about 12 different countries that have been involved in development projects in Afghanistan. So, at least the U.S. is recognized as supporting development projects.
NNAMDIWhat do you think accounts for what, if I might characterize what you said earlier, what do you think accounts for the guarded optimism that your poll found among Afghans?
KRYZERWell, that's interesting. And just to give you kind of a sense of what people are optimistic about, more people than last year feel the country is generally moving in the right direction, which is always a surprise. This year was 57 percent. Last year was about 48 percent. Confidence levels in the Afghan National Security Forces is high. People are generally satisfied, at least those who responded to the question, with the performance of national level government. Not so satisfied with local government.
KRYZERBut for me, the biggest finding was that the majority of those surveyed believe that the upcoming elections have the potential to change their lives, which is, again, incredible.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. How has your opinion about Afghanistan evolved, so to speak, over the past 12 years? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet at kojoshow. We now turn to Ali Latifi in Kabul. Ali, this poll identifies security, corruption, and unemployment as the biggest concerns of Afghans. You've been talking with a lot of young people around the country. What kinds of concerns have they raised when they've been talking to you?
LATIFIMost of the concerns cited in the poll, in the survey, are what people are talking about. In what sort of, I mean, security is always gonna be an issue in Afghanistan. For the foreseeable future, it's gonna be an issue. What's most interesting is when I went to Europe and I spoke to Afghan migrants in Europe, what everyone kept bringing up is what people in the streets in Kabul and (word?) and all these other provinces bring up isn't the unemployment and the economy. Because, you know, as for the (word?) starts to draw down, as the foreign forces withdraw, as aid agencies start to dry up with their funding, more and more people are gonna be out of work.
LATIFIAnd people are already out of work. But this is a huge issue for people.
NNAMDIWhen you travel to Athens, Greece and talk to a large number of young people there, because that's where they were fleeing to find jobs and livelihoods, what is their perspective on the future of Afghanistan? Was the lack of employment in Afghanistan their primary concern?
LATIFIIt was big concern. There were basically two concerns. There was security, because a lot of these kids came from very insecure areas of the country. They came from provinces like (word?) or (unintelligible), all highly volatile and basically violent, and in the middle of the conflict. But the other issue for them was if they do stay, even if things do get better, the other issue was how will they find a livelihood? Because, you know, you can come to Kabul, but Kabul is already a city of five, some people say up to six million people.
LATIFIAnd so, (unintelligible) to make a livelihood in, so if you can't find a job, and it's a high cost of living, what are you gonna do in Kabul? And if you feel like in your own province, you're under threat and there's security issues, you know, the only option is to leave. Now, they're not going to Greece to find job opportunities. They know that there's nothing in Greece. Everyone was trying to get to Scandinavia or to England, or eventually anywhere outside of Greece.
NNAMDITurning to the security issues, Mark Kryzer, you came across a statistic from Afghanistan's Minister of Defense, that police forces were sustaining 400 casualties per week. That's not sustainable, is it?
KRYZERThat's exactly the question I ask myself. Since assuming responsibilities for security of the country from the International Security Assistance Force is the U.S. forces. This past year, that's the level of casualties they're sustaining, both killed and wounded. And this was testimony given by the Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior, in front of Parliament. I think it was sometime in early August. On a personal note, having been there in 1989 when the Soviets pulled out, I saw the same kind of thing.
KRYZERAnd you have to wonder how long the Afghan government, the Afghan Security Forces, can sustain this level of casualties before they start to literally melt away. And again, I think, there was another interesting statistic. While people had confidence in the Afghan National Army, 76 percent of those polled said that the Afghan National Army still needed outside support to do their job. So this all ties back to the pending bilateral security agreement that has yet to be signed between the United States and Afghanistan.
NNAMDIGiven that backdrop, how has that effected Afghan attitudes toward the struggle against the various militant groups?
KRYZERWell, we asked two interesting questions along those lines. One question was, to what extent do you think, do you agree, that the government's reconciliation efforts, with the Taliban, will bring stability to the country? And as I recall, 68 percent said that they believe that those reconciliation efforts would bring stability. Then, as a correlated question to that, we asked, to what extent do you have sympathy with the Taliban? And 35 percent of the respondents said they had some to a lot of sympathy.
KRYZERNow, that's up from last year about five percentage points. And then when we asked, well, why do you have some sympathy for the Taliban, the number one response was corruption. Corruption in government, which comes up again and again. People site it as the second biggest problem at the national level. People site it as one of the largest problems in their personal lives, and it does indeed fuel the insurgency itself.
NNAMDIGiven that concern about corruption and the concerns about security, Ali Latifi, or I should say despite those concerns, do people in Afghanistan feel that the US withdrawal and everything that's likely to happen after that, is an indication that the country is moving in the right direction, as far as they're concerned?
LATIFIIn terms of the U.S. withdrawal, will that help move them in the right direction?
LATIFIYes. I think this is -- how do I put this? So, when we spoke to people, for instance, in (word?) province, which has seen a lot of violence, and has been, in many ways the heart, one of the hearts, of the conflict, they wanted the U.S. out immediately. Because they haven't seen, sort of, anything positive, in their eyes, come from it. You know, they've seen a lot of abuse. They've seen night raids and things like that. And so, yeah, they want the U.S. out.
LATIFIIn other provinces, I think it's sort of a question of, there is still this fear that the country could fall back into instability
NNAMDIU.S. troops -- go ahead, please, Ali.
LATIFINo, no, I was actually, I kind of wanted to go back to this question about armed groups and sympathy for the armed groups.
LATIFIBecause I sort of wondered how do you get a fair or legitimate answer to that? You know, because how likely is it that someone's gonna give an honest response to that question? I'm sort of wondering that myself.
KRYZERThat's a good question, Ali. I think in any survey, you have this problem of social desirability. To what extent is somebody, who's answering a question, giving you the response that they think you want to hear? What we've tried to do, this year, in the survey, from a methodology standpoint, is this is the largest survey that we've done. So, it's almost, well, it's over 9,000 people across all 34 provinces. And what that does, it drives down the margin of error. So, this year, it's largest, or excuse me, the lowest margin of error we've ever had.
KRYZERIn terms of social desirability and our people giving you reliable answers, we've been able to apply, statistically, and I'm not a statistician myself, but some logic test to these kinds of things to try to get at that. For example, if somebody responds that they don't know about the Provincial Council. And the next question, you ask about the effectiveness of the Provincial Council, and they say, well, they're doing a good job. That gives you some idea that the reliability of the respondent is not very good.
KRYZERSo, we've gone through every single questionnaire, the 9,000, and we've been able to weed out those kinds of things. The other thing we found is that it depends on the number of people that are observing the interviewee, in terms of how they might respond to these kinds of things. The typical household that we interviewed this year had nine residents with an average income of about 200 dollars a month. So, again, you can never be 100 percent certain that somebody's not giving you a response that they want, you want, they want to have you hear.
KRYZERBut there are ways, statistically, to try to correct for some of that.
NNAMDIAs we mentioned earlier, U.S. troops are schedule to draw down next year. It's still unclear exactly what the U.S. footprint will be after that. The U.S. and Afghanistan had appears to hammer out a deal known as the Bilateral Security Agreement or BSA but Afghan president Hammed Karzai created uncertainty when he announced he would not sign it. Mark Kryzer, where do we stand on the BSA now?
KRYZERWell, just before I left Kabul last week, national security advisor Susan Rice was there and meeting with the president. And again, he reiterated in that meeting that he was not going to be pressured into signing anything. And indeed he would not sign anything until after the election. Her special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Dobbins was there over the weekend, and also received the same response.
KRYZERSo from what we're seeing there's no indication that President Karzai has moved away from his position on that.
NNAMDIAli, we seem to have two sets of facts in the reporting about this Bilateral Security Agreement. We know that Afghans have expressed outrage about civilian deaths that have occurred during U.S. raids and U.S. drone strikes. But there was also reporting which seemed to indicate that the majority of the public wanted this agreement hammered out. What is the Afghan view, if there is such a thing as the Afghan view, of the American military right now?
LATIFI(unintelligible) American military is going to depend on where you are and (word?) view of the Bilateral Security Agreement. Essentially the (word?) Bilateral Security Agreement comes down to some sense of understanding what's going to come in the future in some sense of finality. You know, there are people that want it signed. And many of those people that want it signed are going to say, look we have no other option so we have to get this signed because we need the support.
LATIFIAnd then the people that don't want it signed are exactly the people who were victims of the night raids and abuses and things like that. But entering the Bilateral Security Agreement comes down to one more step towards a final answer of what could be expected in the next few years.
NNAMDIMark Kryzer talked about finding that Afghans are optimistic about the presidential election in April. Is that what you're hearing on the ground in Kabul, Ali?
LATIFIRight now -- I mean, I've been talking to people in Kabul, I've been talking to people in (unintelligible) provinces. And right now, it's sort of like -- an interesting thing was, for instance, like in (word?) which is an essential province in the country, in the center of the country, it's considered the poorest province in the country, their former governor is one of the, like, presidential candidates for (unintelligible) the foreign minister who is a presidential candidate. And we spoke to them -- all of the people that we spoke to said they were registered and they were ready to vote. And yet, they still didn't have confidence in the current government or in terms of what (unintelligible) their former governor had provided for them.
LATIFIBut then, if you go to somewhere like (unintelligible) where we went just after the presidential candidates were announced, people didn't even know who the candidates were. In Kabul you get the sense that for many people the issue's that, you know, there's no new faces in the selection. It's all the same people. And you're feeling out who are either civil war era leaders or who have been a part of the government for the last ten years.
LATIFIBut I think the real sentiment -- because right now, you know, people are talking and they're saying -- a lot of people are saying necessarily that they won't vote. You know, in Kabul, that's just -- they don't see a change coming from it, that, you know, this is all the same people running, that the decision has already been made. But I think, in reality, we'll get to know people's actual views on the vote as it gets closer to the Election Day. Because as with any election, you know, the closer it gets to the actual polls is when people's real opinions start to come out, and the more you get to know about the candidates and hopefully any platforms that they may have.
NNAMDIAnd Mark Kryzer, I guess that's what we'll have to be keeping our eye on, that presidential election in April.
KRYZERAbsolutely. I think that's a critical piece of the political transition here.
NNAMDIMark Kryzer is Afghanistan country representative for the Asia Foundation who helped oversee the recent poll of Afghan public opinion. He's worked in Kabul at a variety of development agencies for the last ten years. Mark Kryzer, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAli Latifi, he's a producer with Al Jazeera English in Kabul, Afghanistan. He's an Afghan American. He's interviewed numerous young Afghans across the country and in Europe. He's also a former member of the Kojo Show team. Ali, thank you so much for joining us. Keep your head low and be safe.
LATIFIThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, preparing for a hot and crowded planet. A new book explores how population growth will affect the environment and politics around the world. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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