Survey portrays a bleak picture of Afghan security

KABUL — More Afghans fear for their safety than in previous years, a survey released on Thursday said, as NATO-led foreign troops begin to wind down their combat operations.

A total of 59 per cent of Afghans interviewed said they feared for their safety, a sharp increase from 48 per cent in 2012, according to the annual Survey of the Afghan People conducted by the Asia Foundation.

Around 77 per cent of respondents they feared encounters with NATO-led international troops. This was the highest number in recent years, highlighting deep mistrust among the local population towards the military coalition fighting the 12-year-old Taliban insurgency.

Likewise, three-quarters said they were afraid of travelling from one part of the country to another, the annual survey said.

It also found that 35 per cent of respondents expressed some sympathy for the Taliban, up from 30 per cent in 2012 but still far below the height of 56 per cent in 2009.

Of the respondents, 22 per cent blamed the presence of foreign troops for the Taliban insurgency, while 20 per cent said it was because the Islamist movement wants to regain power.

Three-quarters recognized the overtures made by the Afghan government at reconciliation with the Taliban, which have so far been spurned by the insurgent movement. Two-thirds said that these efforts, if productive, could help stabilize the country.

More than half the respondents said insecurity and corruption were the top two problems the country faces today, while a quarter said unemployment was the third biggest problem.

On local issues, Afghans identified unemployment (27 per cent), electricity supply (24 per cent), and roads (19 per cent) as the main issues.

Despite this bleak portrayal, the number of Afghans saying that the country is moving in the right direction increased by three percentage points from last year, to 55 per cent. The main two reasons were ongoing reconstruction projects and better security.

For those who were pessimistic about the country's outlook, the top three reasons were insecurity (24 per cent), corruption (23 per cent) and unemployment (20 per cent).

Since 2007, insecurity has been the top reason for general pessimism, according to the foundation.

However, this year the proportion of Afghans citing corruption as a reason for pessimism rose significantly, up 9 per cent since last year. Similarly, the number of those citing unemployment as a reason for pessimism reached the highest point since 2006.

The survey, now in its ninth year, polled more than 9,000 Afghans from all 34 provinces of the war-torn country.

More than 55,000 Afghans have been interviewed for the survey since 2006, said the foundation, which seeks to improve governance, legal systems, economic development and regional cooperation in Asia.

“Despite a turbulent year, Afghans are resilient and remain optimistic,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, the Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Afghanistan.

“While the survey reveals a strong sense of unease and fear, Afghans are hopeful about the outcome of the upcoming election and the government’s reconciliation efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.”

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said they would be afraid when voting in a national or provincial election, a rise of 3 per cent compared to last year.

A presidential election is slated for April next year, and election violence was cited as one of the top concerns, with 81 per cent of respondents saying the security conditions could affect their decision on whether to travel to polling stations to vote.

The survey also found that Afghans are now less confident about their government institutions and organizations.

The foundation said public confidence was at an eight-year low, with confidence in parliament suffering the sharpest decline of 15 percentage points, from 62 per cent to 47 per cent.

Even the popularity of the powerful religious leaders declined from 73 per cent to 66 per cent. The media's approval rating declined by seven points.

The survey found an overwhelming number of Afghans responding positively to the works of the national security forces, with an approval rating of around 90 per cent.

However, 75 per cent of respondents said local troops still needed foreign support to do their job - an increase of 9 percentage points from last year.

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