Views Improve Sharply in Afghanistan, Though Criticisms of the U.S. Stay High

OPIUM – On another front, the poll documents a dramatic change in attitudes on the cultivation of opium poppy, particularly in Helmand province, the world's leading producer of the drug. A year ago 88 percent in Helmand called it acceptable to grow poppy, at least if there were no other way to earn a living. That's dropped sharply, to 59 percent, today – still a majority, but well down. On the other side, the number in Helmand who call it unacceptable to grow opium poppy has jumped from 12 percent then to 41 percent now.

The change in attitudes comports with findings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which reported in September that cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan fell by 22 percent in 2009, led by a drop of one-third in Helmand. (Production of the drug itself was down by just 10 percent, because of more efficient extraction.) The U.N. credited political leadership, better enforcement and promotion of alternative crops.

The change is not limited to Helmand. In the next six top-producing provinces the number who call it acceptable to grow poppy fell from 58 percent a year ago to 36 percent now. It remained at its already much lower level, 29 percent, in the rest of the country.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS – Another social issue in Afghanistan is the role of women. On one hand, significant majorities of Afghans support the rights of women to vote and of girls to be educated (88 percent in both cases), to hold jobs outside the home (74 percent) and to hold government offices (68 percent).

But there's more of a division on another question: Afghans divide evenly on who should make the choice to wear the burka, the traditional full-body covering worn by some Muslim women – the woman herself (47 percent) or her father or husband (50 percent). Fifty-five percent of women say the woman should decide (rising to 62 percent of urban women); but 58 percent of men say it should be up to the husband or father.

Also, support for some women's roles is weaker than the overall results suggest; just 41 percent of Afghans "strongly" support women holding jobs outside the home and 38 percent strongly support women holding government office. (Voting and educating girls get much higher strong support.) Among men, just 33 percent strongly support women holding jobs or government office; perhaps surprisingly from a Western perspective, these also win strong support from just 50 and 43 percent of women, respectively.

City living is a big factor. Among urban women, 73 and 69 percent, respectively, are strongly in favor of women holding jobs and serving in government. It's 50 and 47 percent among urban men, then declines to 43 and 36 percent among rural women – and bottoms out at 29 percent strong support, on both questions, among rural men.

Eighty percent of Afghans live in rural areas.

HURDLES AHEAD – Beyond the issues of the day, Afghanistan faces basic hurdles of poverty, infrastructure and education. Nearly four in 10 in this survey were illiterate. Fifty-six percent reported no formal schooling whatsoever; just a quarter have more than a primary school education. Among those with an occupation, nearly half are farmers, farm laborers or other unskilled workers. Forty-four percent own a work animal, but just 13 percent a refrigerator. And nearly six in 10 report monthly incomes under $100.

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