Optimism among Afghans regarding the country’s peace process has decreased significantly in the past few months amid a spike in violence, according to a survey released Friday.
The Institute of War and Peace Studies found optimism had dropped to 57 percent when the survey was conducted from September 29 to October 18. That’s down from 86 percent of those surveyed according to the previous assessment conducted over the summer and released in August.
Ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar had been at an impasse until last week, when after nearly three months of talks the two sides agreed on rules and procedures for the negotiations.
However, since the Afghan-Taliban talks started in September, violence has spiked significantly. The Taliban have staged deadly attacks on Afghan forces while keeping their promise not to attack U.S. and NATO troops. The attacks have drawn a mighty retaliation by the Afghan air force, backed by U.S. warplanes. International rights groups have warned both sides to avoid inflicting civilian casualties but a recent report from Brown University’s Costs of War project noted an increase in civilian casualties, particularly under rules of engagement relaxed by the Trump administration in 2017 but also as Afghan forces took over the fight as the U.S. withdraws.
The Institute of War and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank, found that 75.9 percent of respondents in their most recent survey said a cease-fire should be the top priority of the intra-Afghan talks.
Additionally, 71 percent of those polled did not want to dissolve the country’s army and security forces after a peace deal. Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has denounced the idea.
Another 64 percent were also against any fundamental reforms to the structure of the country’s security forces, something the Taliban have insisted on, saying these forces were created by foreign powers.
The institute polled 8,627 people across Afghanistan’s 34 provinces — 58 percent men and 42 percent women — and received funding to conduct the survey from the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The survey had a 5 percent margin of error.
A few districts in some provinces were not surveyed due to high levels of violence and instability, as well as issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, the institute said. That serves to underline the conclusion that Afghans are losing hope in the peace process due to continued violence.
The Taliban now control or hold sway over half the country, and are at their most powerful since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
In a report earlier this year, Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, which monitors billions of dollars in U.S. aid to the country, said Afghanistan may not be ready for peace unless it finds a way to reintegrate Taliban fighters into society and combat “endemic corruption.”
By Tameem Akhgar for the Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan, with additional reporting by The Diplomat.