2006 Poll: Strife Erodes Afghan Optimism

Just a third in the southwest, and one in four in the northwest, say security is better now than under the Taliban, compared with majorities elsewhere. And just a third in the southwest say security in their area is good, compared with broad majorities elsewhere. (Indeed, two southwest provinces, Uruzgan and Zabul, were excluded from the sample because of security concerns. Both are sparsely populated: Zabul is home to an estimated 1.2 percent of the country's population; Uruzgan, 1.1 percent.)

Life is especially difficult in Helmand and Kandahar. A year ago, 78 percent in these two provinces said things were going in the right direction; today, just 43 percent still say so, a precipitous 35-point drop. Not only do eight in 10 there rate their security as bad, but six in 10 say it's worse now than it was under the Taliban.

Insecurity coincides with a relative lack of government or international troop presence in these regions. The Karzai government's presence is viewed as weakest in the south (47 percent call it weak there), northwest (43 percent) and east (40 percent). Similarly, U.S. or other international forces are perceived as weakest in the south (68 percent weak) and northwest (52 percent).

But, especially in the south, negative ratings are not limited to security. Availability of medical care ranges from seven in 10 in Kabul to just 37 percent in the south. Positive local school ratings range from nine in 10 in Kabul down to 44 percent in the southwest.

And relatively few in the northwest or south anticipate things will get better soon. Just 35 percent in the northwest and 39 percent in the south expect things in their life to be better in a year; it bottoms out at 27 percent in a group of provinces from the southeast to the Kabul border. By contrast, about seven in 10 are optimistic in Kabul itself, and eight in 10 in the northern provinces.

Widespread corruption may be one factor causing dour views in the northwest, where corruption is called a big problem more than in any other region. Nearly nine in 10 -- 88 percent -- in the northwest call corruption a big problem in their area. As noted, more than four in 10 in the northwest know someone who's had to bribe a government official.

The number of Afghans who say the country's going in the right direction ranges from 71 percent in the central region to 51 percent in the south. But the decline in this measure from last year is not limited to the highest-conflict areas; it's down sharply in Kabul, the north and the east as well as in the south.

Taliban Presence

While Taliban activities are broadly felt, it's far from a strong or popular movement. Just 7 percent of Afghans call the Taliban a strong presence in their area, and 6 percent say it has substantial local support.

Intensity of sentiment is strongly against the Taliban as well. Not only do 89 percent view it unfavorably overall, but 76 percent rate it "very" unfavorably. (Osama bin Laden is even more unpopular.) And not only do 93 percent doubt the Taliban's ability to provide security, but 84 percent have no confidence in it at all. Seventy-four percent say it has no presence in their area whatsoever.

Still, 24 percent, one in four Afghans, say the Taliban has some presence in their area when those who say it has a "fairly weak" presence are included. And when "fairly weak" support is included, 19 percent say the Taliban has at least some local support.

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