According to a new eye-opening report by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), 92% of Afghans in the south are unaware of the events of 9/11 or that they triggered the current international presence in Afghanistan.
The research consisted of interviews with 1,500 Afghan men in Helmand and Kandahar, two provinces considered the heart of the insurgency. It also included 500 men in the provinces of Parwan and Panjshir in the north of the country.
Other major findings include a widespread belief that the Taliban would provide better governance than the current corrupt regime of President Hamid Karzai; Afghan national forces are corrupt, in league with the Taliban and will be unable to protect the country once U.S.-led forces leave; major distrust of the role of Pakistan in Afghan affairs; belief that foreign forces kill more civilians than the Taliban; and a surprisingly high level of support for women’s rights and elected government. Some of the more noteworthy stats and findings are summarized below.
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). A majority of interviewees in Helmand and Kandahar think that Afghan police recruits are either helping or joining the Taliban, which is worrying in light of plans to transition areas to the Afghan security forces starting in 2011 with an ultimate deadline of 2014. Key poll numbers include:
*56% of respondents believe Afghan police are helping the Taliban.
*61% of believe the Afghan security forces won’t be able to provide security when foreign troops leave.
Al Qaeda. As far as the U.S. foremost objective of dismantling Al Qaeda, the numbers do not look good:
*81% think that Al Qaeda would return to Afghanistan if the Taliban regained power.
*72% believe Al Qaeda would use Afghanistan to launch attacks on the West if they returned.
Foreign Military Presence. Although ICOS figures show improvement in perceptions of who is winning the war in places like Marja and Nawa districts, the negative impacts of the war itself outweigh these gains, as the counterinsurgency has led to “chronic poverty, food shortages, unemployment and displacement by conflict that mark the daily lives of many Afghans.” Key stats:
*40% believe that international forces are there to destroy Islam, or to occupy or destroy Afghanistan.
*55% oppose military operations against the Taliban in their area.
*65% of Afghans believe foreign forces kill more civilians than Taliban (actual data tells otherwise, but U.S. is losing the battle of perception).
“The military presence in the south by its very nature creates a negative impact. That negative blowback must be managed by dramatic positive impacts at the local level, before, during and after the military operations,” said Jorrit Kamminga, Director of Policy Research at ICOS.
Pakistan. The Afghan view of Pakistan’s role is not very positive, especially in the north. Of great concern to Pakistan is the high number of Afghans in the southern provinces who would like to see the creation of ‘Pashtunistan’, an independent Pashtun state (which usually refers to incorporating Pashtun areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan into a single ethnic state.) In the north, a large majority believe that Pakistan controls the Taliban.
*54% of Afghans in the south support the creation of ‘Pashtunistan’
*57% of Afghans in the north believe Pakistan controls the Taliban.
*38% of Afghans believe Osama bin Laden and Arabs control Al Qaeda, but 28% think Pakistan.
Women’s Rights and Elected government. Better news comes from poll numbers which indicate surprisingly high support for women’s rights in the conservative provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. And although Afghans have a low opinion of democracy, per se, they do favor elected government:
*45% support women’s right to vote.
*44% believe women should have a greater role in government.
*45% believe a greater role for women would improve the chances for peace in Afghanistan.
*62% would like their children to grow up under an elected government, while only 30% would prefer Taliban rule.
Governance. The ICOS reported that southern interviewees perceive the Taliban as more effective in security, governance and the economy than the regime of President Hamid Karzai, most pointing to a poor track record in providing security and other basic services. It appears the Taliban are effectively exploiting the governance void by establishing parallel government structures and mounting a propaganda campaign highlighting the lack of progress under Hamid Karzai’s government.
When asked about the good qualities of the Taliban, the interviewees across all districts highlight their ability to provide security, justice, a generally positive attitude toward local communities, efficient government and honesty. This underscores how the Taliban has positioned itself as a legitimate alternative to the failing institutions of the Afghan government.
In the north, it is interesting to note that only 3% of the interviewees mention the application of Sharia law and building of Islamic schools as something the Taliban could provide better than the Afghan government, indicating that “support for the Taliban feeds perhaps more on the failures of the central government over the past decade, rather than on ideology.”