2005 Poll: Four Years After the Fall of the Taliban, Afghans Optimistic About the Future

Acceptability of attacks on U.S. forces spikes among disaffected and socially conservative Afghans, who account for about 15 percent of the population. In this group, just 29 percent say such attacks cannot be justified, compared with 60 percent of all Afghans.

At the same time, even among all Afghans, 30 percent say such attacks can be justified. That may reflect social mores in a country where violence is not an uncommon means of settling disputes, and perhaps specific grievances in areas where administrative or legal remedies are lacking.

In another result that may give pause, one in four Afghans say there are circumstances in which it's acceptable to grow poppies for opium production, a trade that's soared since the Taliban were ousted. Acceptance of poppy farming -- if no alternative source of income is available -- reaches 41 percent in the highest opium-producing provinces as identified by the United Nations last year. And acceptability soars in the two provinces that historically have been the country's centers of poppy cultivation, Nangarhar in the East and Helmand in the West. (While cultivation in Nangarhar reportedly is down sharply this year, it appears that attitudes that tolerate it have not followed.)

Many fewer Afghans -- just five percent -- say poppy cultivation is acceptable in all cases; more say, rather, that it's acceptable only if no alternatives are available. That suggests that the opium trade may be vulnerable, to the extent other income-earning opportunities -- such as the cultivation of alternative crops -- can be provided in its place. But it won't be easy: The United Nations estimates that one in 10 Afghans is involved in cultivating opium poppies.

The survey also finds substantial suspicion of cheating in the recent parliamentary elections. Nearly half of Afghans, 46 percent, believe there was vote buying, intimidation of voters or cheating in the vote count in their area. Still, 77 percent are confident nonetheless that the parliament will work for the benefit of the people, although far fewer, 34 percent, are "very" confident that will be the case.

In terms of threats the country faces, most-cited is the Taliban, an insurgent group since it was ousted with the fall of Kandahar on Dec. 7, 2001. Forty-one percent call the Taliban the biggest danger to Afghanistan, 28 percent cite drug traffickers and 22 percent say it's local warlords. (The program to disarm those warlords enjoys vast popular support, detailed below.)

Greatest Danger to Afghanistan
   
Taliban   41%
Drug Traffickers   28
Warlords   22
U.S.   4
Current Afghanistan Govt.   2

Women

The survey also finds broad majority support for women's rights in Afghan society, albeit, as in other readings, with more modest strength of commitment behind it. Nine in 10 Afghans support girls' education and women voting, three-quarters support women holding jobs and two-thirds support women holding government office -- remarkable in a country where the Taliban so thoroughly repressed such rights. Perhaps surprisingly, support for most of these is nearly as high among men as it is among women.

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