POLL: Afghans’ Criticism of U.S. Efforts Rises; In the Southwest, Taliban Support Grows

Afghans broadly suspect their neighbor Pakistan of a hand in all this: Sixty-nine percent of Afghans believe Pakistan, a past supporter of the Taliban, is allowing it to operate within Pakistani borders. Indeed just 19 percent of Afghans have a favorable opinion of Pakistan, almost as low as the Taliban itself (13 percent).

OPIUM -- The Taliban and development problems are far from Afghanistan's only difficulties. Opium is a vastly growing problem; the United Nations has reported a 34 percent increase in opium production in Afghanistan this year, making it "practically the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug," with 93 percent of the market.

The center of this activity is the Southwest, where, the U.N. says, "opium cultivation has exploded to unprecedented levels," with just over half the country's crop produced in a single province, Helmand.

Overall, 36 percent of Afghans call it acceptable to grow opium poppy (most, "if there is no other way to earn a living"), about the same as last year. But the regional differences are vast. In the top six opium-producing provinces, 64 percent call it acceptable; in Helmand, it's 81 percent. Elsewhere far fewer, 27 percent, agree.

In Helmand and the other top-producing provinces, two-thirds or more of those who see poppy cultivation as acceptable say that's the case only if there's no other way to earn a living. That suggests people would accept an alternative -- if one were available.

What to do about the crop is a controversial issue in Afghanistan. The United States and others have urged Karzai to allow aerial spraying of herbicides, but he's been resistant, and so is the public. While 84 percent say the government should take measures to kill off poppy fields, far fewer, 13 percent, support spraying herbicides. Forty-five percent are outright opposed, and another quarter are unsure about it.

In the top-producing provinces, nearly three in 10 residents say the government should simply allow the crop to be grown. In the rest of the country, just 7 percent agree.

CORRUPTION -- Corruption is another problem: A quarter of Afghans say police or provincial government officials have demanded a bribe from them or someone they know. For police bribes, that rises to 35 percent among men, vs. 19 percent of women, and it peaks where the central government is seen as weakest.

Afghans are more apt to report demands for bribes by police and provincial authorities than by local militia leaders (18 percent), the Afghan Army (4 percent) or the Taliban (5 percent). That would hardly seem an effective way to win hearts and minds; indeed people who report bribe demands are much more negative in their ratings of the country's direction, the national and provincial governments and U.S. efforts alike.

Overall 72 percent of Afghans call corruption among government officials a problem in their country, little changed from 78 percent last year. There has been a 10-point drop in the number who call it a "big" problem, now 45 percent; it remains to be seen whether that means it's being addressed, or people are accommodating themselves to it.

WITHDRAW/ATTACK –There's been a decline in the number of Afghans who say U.S. forces should remain in their country either until security is restored, or permanently -- now 49 percent, down from 60 percent last year. Just 14 percent desire immediate withdrawal; most of the rest divide between a one- or two-year time frame.

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