Perhaps most troubling in terms of governance: 78 percent of Afghans call official corruption a problem in the area where they live -- and 55 percent call it a big problem. One in four report that they or someone they know has had to pay a bribe to receive proper service from the government -- and that jumps to four in 10 in the country's northwest, where corruption is particularly severe.
There are, however, positives. Most Afghans say the government and local police alike have a strong presence in their area. Few say so of the Taliban -- and trust the current authorities, at least somewhat, to provide security. Again, likely reflecting the Taliban's broad unpopularity, big majorities continue to call the U.S.-led invasion a good thing for their country (88 percent), to express a favorable opinion of the United States (74 percent) and to prefer the current Afghan government to Taliban rule (88 percent).
Indeed eight in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S., British and other international forces on their soil; that compares with 5 percent support for Taliban fighters and 11 percent for jihadi fighters from other countries. In the south, however, just three in 10 say international forces have a strong presence. And while just a quarter overall say U.S. forces should leave within a year, that is up from 14 percent a year ago.
Fifty-five percent of Afghans still say the country's going in the right direction, but that number is down sharply from 77 percent last year. Fifty-four percent remain optimistic rather than pessimistic about their future, but that's down from 67 percent. Hopes for a better future can provide an important element of social stability; a decline is cause for concern.
In one sense, optimism at all is remarkable in Afghanistan, given the security problems and deep poverty. (Barely two in 10 Afghans, for example, live in homes that receive electricity from power lines.) But, again, views of today's conditions are balanced by recollections of the repressive Taliban regime. Whatever the current problems, 74 percent say their living conditions today are better now than they were under the Taliban.
That rating, however, is 11 points lower now than it was a year ago.While 58 percent say security, in particular, is better than it was under the Taliban, that's down from 75 percent a year ago. And fewer than half -- 43 percent, about the same as last year -- say the availability of jobs and economic opportunity has improved.
On the local level, 69 percent say their own security from crime and violence is good, but just two in 10 say it's "very good." Worst-rated locally are other basics like the availability of medical care, economic opportunities, the condition of infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and electrical supply. Fewer than half -- in most cases much less than half -- rate any of these as adequate.
Views differ sharply across regional lines, with attitudes most negative overall -- and security concerns greatest -- in the south, where the Taliban is strongest (particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the southwest), and in the northwest provinces, where its activity has been on the rise.
Majorities in the northwest and southwest call security the biggest problem in Afghanistan. That drops to a third in Kabul, three in 10 in central Afghanistan and about two in 10 in the north and east.