A new poll of the people of Afghanistan has been undertaken. The BBC report on the poll is titled Afghan people ‘losing confidence’. Reading the full poll [PDF], the title is justified. There are social problems, concerns about corruption, violence, and economics. There is also growing disenchantment with the Afghan government, but it is important to note some of the underlying data that flies in the face of Simon Jenkins-style “let’s pull out because it is a disaster” defeatism.
First off, 69% of those polled say it was mostly good or very good that US forces went into Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban in 2001. The majority are still in support of US forces and NATO/ISAF forces being in the country. Ninety percent somewhat oppose or strongly oppose Taliban fighters and 87% of those polled were somewhat opposed or strongly opposed to foreign jihadi fighters. It is fair to say that most Afghans would prefer British Muslims to turn up in a British Army uniform, rather than arriving over the border from Pakistan as a jihadi. As one commentator on the BBC Have you Say site says:
As a progressive British Muslim I feel for the UK soldiers; the average Afgan; the women who had their rights stolen by the Taliban; & the many innocent Muslims & non-Muslims murdered by their al-Qaeda allies.
Under the Taliban I would be beheaded for saying any one of these things. That’s how “better” the Taliban was.
Polling data also makes it pretty clear that while Karzai’s government is taking flak, the Taliban alternative, that some in the West are willing to let fellow humans fall victim to, is still not popular.
and the Taliban are still seen as the biggest, and rising, threat to Afghanistan. Far more than the evil US in fact, which may come as something of a disappointment to the Islamists in this country.
Although it seems like stating the obvious, the correct response to a fall in confidence in Afghanistan, is to re-assure them that their worse fears will not come to pass. We should make it clear that the Taliban will not be allowed to take over the country again, even if a doorway is left open for some of them to enter into normal democratic politics and abandon violence. As Brandon Friedman says (via Terry Glavin):
To this day, the vast majority of Afghans truly prefer U.S. forces over the Taliban. What they don’t like, however, is our overwhelming failure to make progress after our initial gains in 2001 and 2002. If they hated us in general, the Afghans would’ve kicked out our meager force of 30,000 troops years ago. What they hate is when we tell them that we’re going to run off the Taliban and fix their country–and then we don’t. What they hate is when we offer them incentives to side with us against the Taliban, and then, when the Taliban return to their villages, we leave them hung out to dry. What they hate is when we are forced to rely on air power–resulting in unnecessary civilian casualties–because we don’t have enough ground troops.
This is why European states should support Obama, when he calls upon them to aid the US to help in Afghanistan.