Hopes for a brighter future have soared in Afghanistan, bolstered by a broad rally in support for the country's re-elected president, improved development efforts and economic gains. Blame on the United States and NATO for violence has eased – but their overall ratings remain weak.
In one key shift, the latest poll by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV finds that sharply more Afghans now see the Taliban as the main source of their country's strife, while many fewer blame the United States or its allies – significant progress in a central aim of the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Another, basic change is larger still: After steep declines in recent years there's been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans' expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there's been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
Many challenges remain. Complaints about official corruption are higher than ever. Views of the United States and NATO's performance remain poor, with six in 10 rating their work negatively. And accounts of local violence have held steady, with many Afghans still blaming allied forces for civilian casualties. All these raise the question of whether the overall improvements can hold as Hamid Karzai's honeymoon fades and the fighting continues.
There also are significant regional differences. Support for U.S. and NATO efforts are sharply lower in the South and East, where the fighting is heaviest. Local support for the Taliban rises to 27 percent on its home turf, in the country's Southwest, vs. 10 percent in the rest of the country. And views of the country's direction are markedly less bright in some high-conflict areas, such as Helmand, heart of the opium poppy trade.
Critical from the U.S. perspective is that, despite poor views of its performance, 68 percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama. But support for the surge drops to 42 percent in the South and East; support for the presence of U.S. forces also drops in these regions, and support for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces, while sharply down overall, remains much higher in the restive South.
TURNAROUND – Nonetheless this poll finds turnarounds in several basic measures, a dramatic contrast from a year ago, when public attitudes grew much more negative amid broad violence and corruption, struggling development and political uncertainty.
Resolution of the country's disputed election is one factor in brighter hopes overall. Positive views of Karzai's performance as president have spiked by 19 points, to 71 percent, as he's asserted power for a second full term. Ratings of national institutions have joined along; approval of the Afghan Army is up by 13 points, with very broad confidence (83 percent) in its ability to provide security – potentially an important sign of national cohesion.