Survey: Afghans support central government, but ethnic divisions are sharp


McClatchy Washington Bureau

With Afghanistan’s presidential elections less than two months away, a new public opinion survey has found hopeful signs that Afghan voters are ready to build a unified nation after three decades of war.

The survey found that respondents overwhelmingly trust the country’s national government, its army and its police and oppose Taliban rule. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they believe the Afghan government effectively controls the country. About 72 percent said they trust the national army and 64 percent said they trust the national police.

But exactly how Afghans want to pursue the peace process is unclear. Although most Afghans desire a peace agreement with the Taliban, they have little confidence it would be honored. Most reject Western involvement in Afghan politics but nearly 80 percent insist the international community should help rebuild the country by providing development aid, supporting elections and mediating negotiations with the Taliban, the survey says.

The survey was conducted in September and October by Assess, Transform and Reach, a Kabul-based consulting firm, which surveyed more than 4,200 respondents from 11 provinces. But Lola Cecchinel, head of research at ATR, said there was no way to know if the sample, despite its size, was representative of the total Afghan population, since no census has been conducted in Afghanistan since 1979. Afghanistan is home to at least 14 distinct ethnic groups whose representation in the population is subject to debate, as is the actual size of the population.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming support for the Afghan government, “there are still very complex differences between groups,” Cecchinel said of the survey’s results.

The survey revealed a sharp division between the country’s north, where Tajiks are the dominant ethnic group, and the south, where Pashtuns dominate. The Taliban are largely Pashtun, while Tajiks were the primary members of the Northern Alliance, which fought Taliban rule prior to U.S. intervention after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Only 2 percent of respondents in the north favored Taliban rule compared with more than 26 percent in the south, the survey found.

Perceptions of living conditions also were divided between north and south. Most Afghans in the south said their living conditions had deteriorated, while 73 percent of people in the north said their living conditions had improved over the last decade.

A recent Gallup poll showed nearly 55 percent of Afghans live in poor conditions, the highest percentage among all countries polled by the organization in 2013 and the highest percentage in Afghanistan since Gallup began surveying the country in 2008.

Opinion surveys have been controversial in Afghanistan, where some politicians have claimed the U.S. government has conducted surveys designed to produce results favorable to U.S. policies in the country. While U.S. officials deny that charge, the Obama administration has decided not to fund any public opinion surveys prior to the presidential elections, which are scheduled for April. ATR’s survey was not commissioned by the United States.

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