Four years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghans express both vast support for the changes that have shaken their country and remarkable optimism for the future, despite the deep challenges they face in economic opportunity, security and basic services alike.
An ABC News poll in Afghanistan -- the first national survey there sponsored by a news organization -- underscores those challenges in a unique portrait of the lives of ordinary Afghans. Poverty is deep, medical care and other basic services lacking, and infrastructure minimal. Nearly six in 10 have no electricity in their homes, and just 3 percent have it around the clock. Seven in 10 Afghan adults have no more than an elementary education; half have no schooling whatsoever. Half have household incomes under $500 a year.
Public Attitudes in Afghanistan
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U.S.-Led Overthrow of Taliban
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Yet despite these and other deprivations, 77 percent of Afghans say their country is headed in the right direction -- compared with 30 percent in the vastly better-off United States. Ninety-one percent prefer the current Afghan government to the Taliban regime, and 87 percent call the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban good for their country. Osama bin Laden, for his part, is as unpopular as the Taliban; nine in 10 view him unfavorably.
Progress fuels these views: Despite the country's continued problems, 85 percent of Afghans say living conditions there are better now than they were under the Taliban. Eighty percent cite improved freedom to express political views. And 75 percent say their security from crime and violence has improved as well. After decades of oppression and war, many Afghans see a better life.
More can be done; most say each of these is better, but not "much" better, than under the Taliban. And in a fourth crucial area -- jobs and economic opportunity -- progress is badly lacking: In this basic building block, just 39 percent see improvement.
In a separate measure, Afghans by nearly 2-1, 64 percent to 34 percent, say their own household's financial situation is bad (most Americans, by contrast, say theirs is good.). Yet that economic discomfort has not produced political dissatisfaction: Ratings of President Hamid Karzai, the current government and the newly elected parliament are all high.
Better hopes for the future are a likely reason. This poll finds broad expectations -- expressed by two-thirds of Afghans -- that life overall will improve in the year ahead. That optimism, while encouraging, also carries the danger of discontent if those expectations go unmet.
This survey was conducted for ABC News by Charney Research of New York with fieldwork by the Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research in Kabul. Trained Afghan researchers interviewed a randomly selected sample of 1,039 adults across the country.
Some results may raise particular concerns. One is that, despite broadly favorable views of the United States, three in 10 Afghans say attacks against U.S. forces can be justified. There are about 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with more than 250 killed to date -- including nearly twice as many in 2005 as in any previous year.