By: Suraya Raiszada
One remarkable finding of the Asia Foundation’s annual public opinion survey, released on Tuesday, was that the people of Afghanistan are slightly more “optimistic” than in 2018 and feel that the country is “moving in the right direction.” One significant explanation for this was the prospect of peace.
“A Survey of the Afghan People, Afghanistan in 2019” is several hundred pages long and is based on interviews with nearly 18,000 Afghans conducted between July 11 to August 7, 2019. The report, which provides comparative data from similar surveys beginning in 2004, gauges public opinion across a broad range of topics including governance, security, the economy, women’s rights as well as how Afghans receive their news and whether or not they want to leave the country, and why.
While some results remained fairly similar to those of 2018—such as views on corruption or satisfaction with “justice and dispute resolution”—the number of people who are optimistic that the country is “going in the right direction” increased this year to 36.1% from 32.8 % in 2018.
The report suggests that hopes for continued peace talks have influenced this change:
“In explaining reasons for their optimism, those who say ‘peace /end of war’ increased notably from 16.4% to 26.3% this year,” according to the report, which also said that results for this question between 2017 and 2018 were “effectively unchanged.”
“Despite worries about the veracity of Taliban claims that they would support women’s rights and girls’ education… the talks brought a widespread sense of hope that more than 40 years of continual conûict could be resolved,” the report stated.
Other reasons given for the belief that “the country is moving in the right direction” included “improved security” (55.7%, up from 51.8% in 2018), and “reconstruction/rebuilding/infrastructure at 48.6%” (close to last year’s 47.9%).
But despite this uptick in optimism, attributable in part to the prospect of a peace settlement, 58% percent of the population still feels that the country is “moving in the wrong direction,” which echoes a Gallup poll whose results were released mid-September that reported that Afghans expected their “future lives” to be worse than the present:
“On a scale where ‘0’ represents their worst possible life and ‘10’ their best possible life, Afghans gave an average rating of 2.7 in 2018 — tied for the lowest in any country since Gallup began this survey. Asked to predict where their lives would be in five years on the same scale, Afghans’ average response was 2.3, a new low for any country in any year.”
In the Asia Foundation survey, of those Afghans who said they feel the country is moving in the wrong direction, 74.7% cite “insecurity/crime,” 41.5% say the “economy,” and 31.1% say the “state of governance.”
Other reasons given for pessimism: included: “Lack of infrastructure/services (7.2%), foreign intervention (6.6%), and injustice / human rights concerns (4.6%).”
One curious result was found in the report’s “self-reported happiness” section, where despite difficult circumstances the majority of Afghans answered positively:
“Respondents are asked to report on their own happiness, and despite the low levels of optimism about the direction of the country, the majority of Afghans continue to say they are very or somewhat happy (81.4%, up from 80.7% in 2018). Some 15.4% say they are not very happy, and 3.2% say they are not at all happy.”
The “Perception of Economy” portion of the report revealed the following:
“This year, the survey added a new question for households with school-age children who don’t go to school, asking them why they don’t go to school. The most frequent responses are economic concerns like “they need to work” (12.3% for girls and 37.7% for boys), transportation difficulties (17.3% for girls and 16.4% for boys), and “cannot afford tuition or school supplies” (8.7% for girls and 6.9% for boys).”
The breakdown of answers to this question—what would respondents “protect as part of a peace agreement”—are as follows: “A majority of 54.7% says protecting the current constitution is very important, followed by a strong central government (53.6%), freedom of speech (46.0%), and freedom of the press (46.4%). Just 17.3% overall say the presence of foreign military forces is important to protect.” And, amid extensive research on how Afghans receive news, such as TV vs. internet vs. radio vs. mosques…one number put things in perspective:
“Only 17.6% of the Afghan population say they use the internet.”
This comes amid of increasing of efforts towards peace in the country. Afghan political experts believe that Afghan security forces have been able to successfully act in the battlefield and prevented from possible attacks of enemies on big cities of the country.