Another result, supporting this direction, backs up the notion of a national identity in Afghanistan, which some observers have questioned. Asked if they think of themselves more as Afghans, or more as members of their ethnic group (Pashtun and Tajik are the largest), most by far – 72 percent – say they're Afghans first.
Negotiations are another way forward – one with public support, but with preconditions. All told, 64 percent of Afghans say the government should negotiate a settlement with the Taliban in which they're allowed to hold political offices if they agree to stop fighting. But among those who support negotiations, most by far, seven in 10, say talks should occur only if the Taliban stop fighting first.
As for the likely outcome, expectations are fractured – but in a telling result, few Afghans, 33 percent, think the government, with foreign support, will defeat the Taliban outright. Another 33 percent expect a negotiated settlement; 19 percent, continued fighting. Just 8 percent foresee an outright Taliban victory.
NEIGHBORS and OTHERS – All this comes against the backdrop of marked discomfort with neighboring Pakistan. Reflecting long-tense relations, a near-unanimous 91 percent of Afghans have an unfavorable opinion of Pakistan (up 11 points from last year), 86 percent say Pakistan is playing a negative role in Afghanistan and 67 percent think Pakistan is allowing the Taliban to operate within its borders.
In sharp contrast, India's tensions with Pakistan make it broadly appealing in Afghanistan: Seventy-four percent of Afghans see India favorably. Fewer but a majority, 57 percent, also have a favorable view of Iran, Afghanistan's neighbor to the west.
Among Western countries, Germany's favorability is high, at 61 percent; its NATO/ISAF troops in Afghanistan have been in the North, away from the heaviest fighting. Favorable views of Great Britain are much lower, 39 percent; of the United States, as noted, they've dropped steadily to 47 percent, from a high of 83 percent in 2005.
OPIUM – Another problem, for Afghanistan and the world alike, is its production of opium poppy – and this poll finds continued support for such cultivation in the provinces where it occurs. (The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's opium poppy, despite a 6 percent drop in production in 2008.)
In the country as a whole, 63 percent of Afghans call raising opium poppy "unacceptable in all cases." But in the six top-producing provinces that dives to 31 percent – and in Helmand, source of two-thirds of Afghanistan's opium poppy, to just 12 percent. Instead 66 percent in the top-producing provinces (Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Nimroz and Zabul in the Southwest, and Farah in the West), call it acceptable to cultivate the crop. That peaks at 88 percent in Helmand.
Most who say it's acceptable say that's the case only if there's no other way to earn a living, suggesting openness to alternatives. But the high prices for opium poppy may make alternatives a hard sell. Another challenge: Even nationally, few Afghans, just 13 percent, support spraying pesticides as a way to eradicate the crop.