2006 Poll: Strife Erodes Afghan Optimism

In Helmand and Kandahar, far more -- 22 percent -- report a strong Taliban presence, and nearly two-thirds report at least some Taliban presence, even if a fairly weak one. Again, this presence is not popular. Even in Helmand and Kandahar, just 7 percent say that they themselves support the Taliban, and 9 percent say others in the area support it.

Violence may well be one reason. About six in 10 Afghans in Helmand and Kandahar say there have been Taliban bombings, killings and the delivery of threatening "night letters" in their area; seven in 10 say the Taliban has burned buildings; more than eight in 10 report fighting; and two-thirds say people in their area have given the Taliban food or money.

Nationally, individual mentions include burning schools or buildings, 45 percent; nearby fighting, also 45 percent; bombings, 43 percent; and Taliban-inspired murders, 42 percent. Sixty-four percent report any one or more of the total items listed.

Support for the Taliban is highest in a group of six provinces in the southeast of the country, from Paktika and Khost on the Pakistan border up to Paktia and in to Ghazni, Logar and Wardak. There, while just 10 percent say they themselves support the Taliban, 22 percent say others in the area support it at least fairly strongly, and 45 percent give it some support, even if "fairly weak."

Afghans give a range of reasons why some people in their area support the Taliban -- for example, as a religious duty (23 percent), because they agree with its goals (14 percent) or because they were forced to (12 percent). But the largest share, 30 percent, give another reason: People who support the Taliban, they say, think it can improve security. In Helmand and Kandahar, that rises to 46 percent.

Other Forces

Some Afghans are squeezed between Taliban on one side and local commanders -- often described as warlords -- on the other. Twenty-eight percent call local commanders a strong presence in their area, and two in 10 say these forces have significant local support (both levels are higher in rural areas).

At the same time, the number of Afghans who call local warlords the country's biggest danger has subsided from 22 percent last year to 9 percent now, as concern about the Taliban has risen.

Nearly six in 10 Afghans (57 percent) say U.S., NATO or United Nations ISAF forces have a strong presence in their area, considerably more than they claim about the Taliban or local commanders. But the strong presence of international forces ranges from 83 percent in the north to just 29 percent in the south. Confidence in these international forces to provide security, 67 percent overall, likewise ranges widely, from 83 percent in the north to 47 percent in the south.

Seven in 10 say the central government has a strong presence in their area, again with a wide range, from 84 percent in Kabul and the north down to 57 percent in the northwest and 53 percent in the south. Eight in 10 nationally are confident in the central government to provide security, but this ranges as low as 55 percent in the south.

Still, two-thirds in the south, and 78 percent nationally, say the central government enjoys substantial support in their area. But, given the alternatives, that could be as much an expression of hope as an evaluation of the government's performance. Indeed, far fewer nationally, 28 percent, say the government has "very strong" support in their area.

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