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

Similarly, when asked the single most important priority for the country, 40 percent of Afghans say security from crime and violence remains paramount. That's followed fairly closely by creating jobs and economic opportunities, then much more distantly by the need for infrastructure improvements. When first- and second-highest priorities are combined, however, these rank about evenly. There's much to do.

Another expression of the importance of security comes in support for the country's "DDR" -- disarmament, demobilization and reintegration -- program. Largely Japanese-funded, the program is said to have disarmed 70,000 fighters under local warlords, offering them vocational training in exchange for their weapons. Not only do 95 percent of Afghans support the program, but 72 percent "strongly" support it, by far the highest level of strong support for any program, individual or entity measured in this survey.

Views of the United States

Eighty-three percent of Afghans express a favorable opinion of the United States overall, similar to the 87 percent who call the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban a good thing. That compares to favorable ratings of a mere 8 percent for the Taliban, and 5 percent for bin Laden. People who are unhappy with their local living conditions are twice as likely to have an unfavorable opinion of the United States.

Support for the United States is less than full-throated. Far fewer, 24 percent, regard it "very" favorably. And while 68 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively, that's well below the ratings given to Karzai, the United Nations or the present Afghan government (83 percent, 82 percent and 80 percent positive, respectively).

Still, an 83 percent favorable rating for the United States, and a 68 percent positive work performance rating, are remarkable -- in sharp contrast to negative views of the United States in many other Muslim nations. (Another contrast is Karzai's job rating -- 83 percent positive -- compared with President Bush's in the United States, where 39 percent of Americans approved in the last ABC News/Washington Post poll.)

Given the Afghan public's security concerns -- and distaste for the Taliban -- there is little demand for prompt U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just 8 percent say the United States should leave now, and another 6 percent say it should withdraw within the next year. The most common answer by far: Sixty-five percent say U.S. forces should leave Afghanistan "only after security is restored."

Shiite and Sunni

Notable in this survey is the similarity of views between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the two doctrinal groups so sharply at odds in Iraq. As in most of the Arab world, Sunnis dominate in Afghanistan -- 85 percent of the population is Sunni (including nearly all members of the Pashtun and Tajik ethnic groups) while 15 percent is Shiite (including nearly all ethnic Hazaras).

There are differences: Thirty-two percent of Sunnis say attacks on U.S. forces can be justified, compared with 19 percent of the Shiite minority. And 51 percent of Shiites describe the Taliban (a Sunni group) as the biggest danger facing the country, compared with a (still high) 39 percent of Sunnis.

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