2006 Poll: Strife Erodes Afghan Optimism

Five years after the fall of the Taliban, public optimism has declined sharply across Afghanistan, pushed by a host of fresh difficulties: Worsening security, rising concerns about a resurgent Taliban, troubled development efforts, widespread perceptions of corruption and reduced faith in the government's effectiveness in facing these challenges.

The U.S.-led invasion remains highly popular, the Taliban intensely unpopular, and the current Afghan government retains broad support. Yet this extensive ABC News/BBC World Service survey makes clear the country's profound problems, including renewed Taliban activities five years after the fall of their last redoubt, Kandahar, on Dec. 7, 2001:

Sixty-four percent of Afghans report some Taliban activity in their own local area, including killings, bombings, torching of schools or government buildings and armed conflict with government or foreign troops. Security is worst -- rated negatively by 80 percent -- in the stricken southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

One in six Afghans say people in their area provide Taliban fighters with food or money -- and that number jumps to more than a third in the northwest, nearly half in the country's southwest provinces overall, and two-thirds specifically in Helmand and Kandahar.

Most Afghans -- 57 percent -- now call the Taliban the single greatest danger to their country, up 16 points from the first ABC News poll in Afghanistan a year ago. Only in the eastern provinces does the Taliban have a rival threat, drug traffickers.

Drugs

Views on the drug front also are not promising. Signaling frustration with the slow pace of development, there's been a jump in the acceptance of growing opium poppies, the country's illicit cash crop. Nationally, 40 percent now call it acceptable if there's no other way to earn a living, up sharply from 26 percent last year. And in the top-producing opium provinces, more -- a 59 percent majority -- endorse poppy cultivation.

Despite eradication efforts, Afghanistan is the world's top opium poppy producer -- and nearly three-quarters of Afghans suspect the Taliban is protecting the trade.

Deterioration

Compared to a year ago, this poll finds deterioration in a range of public perceptions about the country's condition: a 22-point drop in views that it's headed in the right direction, a 17-point drop in the belief security has improved since the Taliban was in control and a 13-point drop in personal optimism for the year ahead. Trust in parliament is down 18 points while approval of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is down 15 points.

Some of these ratings, to be fair, have fallen from probably unsustainable levels. Sixty-eight percent approve of Karzai's work -- down from 83 percent last year, but still a level most national leaders would envy. Fifty-nine percent think the parliament is working for the benefit of the Afghan people, down from 77 percent but still far better than American approval ratings of the U.S. Congress.

Others are lower: Positive ratings of the performance of the United States in Afghanistan are down by 11 points, to 57 percent. Provincial governments are rated positively by 52 percent.

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