The New Asia Foundation Survey

by Joshua Foust on 10/28/2008

The Asia Foundation has completed its latest survey, which they promise is “the largest population sample ever surveyed at one time in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces.” That’s quite a doozy. What are some key take aways?

  • There is growing pessimism about the country, though people cited security as the main reason why it’s getting worse and why it’s getting better. Oddly, respondents in the East thought security has improved (despite a 40% increase in insurgent attacks on Coalition Forces).
  • In comparison to previous years, security has surpassed corruption and economic issues as people’s main concern.
  • Disapproval of opium cultivation in the South and Southeast is declining, while disapproval is strengthening in the Central and Northeast.
  • Everyone wants electricity, water, and roads.
  • A huge number of people feel less prosperous today than they did under the Taliban—and that number has increased since 2006.
  • While people still prefer the traditional jirga/shura system of information (traditional) justice, support even for the official justice system remains a slim majority.

Digging through some sections that interest me, more than two-thirds of respondents view the national government (i.e. Karzai) positively, though they don’t think it does enough to provide jobs or other economic opportunities. A huge number also expressed satisfaction with the provincial government (and a smaller majority liked the district government).

There is a lot more geographic and demographic variation buried in the data I need to parse through. But this is yet another data point that—contra those pessimistic journos—Afghanistan just might not be a lost cause after all. But one thing worries me:

The survey also attempted to measure perceptions of safety and security against actual experience of violence and crime. Compared to the relatively high proportion of people who report that they sometimes or often fear for their own or their family’s safety and security (48%), the proportion of those who have actually experienced any kind of crime or violence in the last year is relatively low…

The proportion of respondents who report having been victims of crime rises consistently with monthly household income, from 12 percent of those earning less than 2000Afs a month to 19 percent amongst those earning between 5,000 and 10,000Afs. Experience of crime is also higher in rural areas (17%) than in urban areas (11%)…

In general,instances of violence experienced by respondents appear to be largely due to crime rather than insurgent-related activities (8%). Violence resulting from militant/insurgent actions is mentioned much more often in the South West (16%), South East (12%), Central Hazarajat (12%), and Central Kabul (11%) regions than in other parts of the country. However, actions by foreign forces are also reported almost as frequently in some of these regions including the South West (12%), East (11%), and South East (9%).

So people are most often the victims of criminals, not insurgents. Yet Coalition activity harms them almost as often as insurgent activity—or at least, that is how the respondents seemed to see it (with the implication that this is broadly indicative of Afghan thought on the matter). That is, in a word, appalling. I bet you it has to do with our piss-poor public relations over the recent spate of bombed civilians.

More on this later, though it is interesting that the Afghans themselves don’t seem nearly as pessimistic about their country as, say, the panel of experts Frontline assembled for their gripping hour-long documentary about the War that relies on Robert Kaplan to tell us about what Northwestern Pakistan is like. More on that later, as well.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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