Analysis of the recent release of the Asia Foundation’s Survey of the Afghan People has centered around Afghan’s increasingly pessimistic views on both security and the future in general. While the results certainly point in a pessimistic direction, many notable trends that emerged from the survey in 2016 had a more positive side.
The survey itself is impressive considering the geographic, ethnic, religious, and security issues that poll interviewers had to contend with. In just slightly over one month, over 12,000 Afghans were interviewed representing 16 ethnic groups and all 34 provinces.
The Asia Foundation has been conducting the survey since 2004 and announced their findings at a conference in Washington D.C. this Wednesday. The initial take-away from the survey results was the increasing pessimism among the Afghan people concerning security and the future direction of the country. Just three years ago, 58 percent of Afghans thought the country was moving in the right direction. In 2016, sentiments had switched, with 66 percent feeling that the country was moving in the wrong direction.
People’s fear for personal safety has been steadily increasing since the start of the survey, from 40 percent in 2006 up to 70 percent now. The government maintains low levels of confidence amongst the people, while religious leaders and the media have slightly higher levels of confidence. Unemployment continues to be a primary concern in the country, with 71 percent saying it was the biggest problem facing Afghan youth. In addition, 52 percent of respondents cite unemployment as the reason to leave the country if they were given the opportunity.
However, some initial promising trends were presented at the conference in D.C. as well. Notably, there was an increase in those Afghans who believe that women should be allowed to get an education and work outside the home. 81 percent of those interviewed said that women and men should have equal educational opportunities.
Another promising shift was a 10-percentage point drop in the number of Afghans that said they have a desire to migrate to other countries. The most commonly cited reasons for optimism in the direction of the country were reconstruction and good security. A narrow majority, 54 percent, said that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is getting better at providing security.
Afghans continue to fear encounters with armed opposition groups, with 93 percent saying they are fearful of an encounter with the Taliban. Comparatively, 45 percent are fearful of an encounter with Afghan National Police (ANP) and 42 percent with the ANA. While awareness of Islamic State/Daesh has increased (from 74 percent to 81 percent) over the past year, perceptions of the group as a security threat has decreased (54 percent to 48 percent).
Public awareness of development projects moved in a decidedly positive direction this year, the Asia Foundation reports: “Public awareness of new development projects has increased in every category of the Survey since last year.”
In a result that was very representative of the mitigated silver lining that this survey showed, perceptions of corruption being a problem remained unchanged from 2015 while those that reported actually encountering corruption was down.
The number of Afghans who report television as their main source of information has increased over the past few years, up to 66 percent. The survey also showed that those who watch more TV are less likely to have confidence in the National Unity Government (NUG), more likely to fear for their personal safety, and more likely to think ISIS/Daesh is a problem. However, those who watch more TV are also more likely to support women’s rights.
Afghanistan’s security situation continues to be a major concern for the future of the country. Analysts, observers, and pundits alike all express doubt for the future of the country, along with most Afghans. However, a country is always more complicated than the headlines that cover it.
Adam Wunische is a PhD student at Boston College and a contributing analyst at Wikistrat.