Afghan adults back talks with armed anti-government groups by a margin of 83 per cent, with 55 per cent having no sympathy at all for insurgencies.
Majority of Afghans support negotiation with Taliban: poll
KABUL // Nearly all Afghans want their government to make peace with the Taliban despite their growing dislike for the insurgency, according to a survey funded in part by the U.S. government.
The survey released Tuesday by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation found that 83 percent of Afghan adults back negotiations with armed, anti-government groups, up from 71 percent last year. But it also said 55 percent of Afghans had no sympathy at all for the insurgency this year, up from 36 percent last year. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they had "a little sympathy" for the aims of the insurgency.
Analysts said the survey reflected growing doubt that the government and its NATO allies can defeat the insurgency with military means and that after 30 years of war, some Afghans were willing to sacrifice some freedoms for the sake of peace.
"The prospects for peace here in Afghanistan are very difficult," said Haroun Mir, the director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. "People remember the brutality of the time of Taliban rule but they feel they have no other options. They would rather have a government that is part Taliban than all Taliban."
He added that "we don't have a hope for a stable democracy in Afghanistan anymore."
After nearly 10 years, NATO's military commitment is not open-ended and President Hamid Karzai has made reconciliation a top priority. He has offered jobs and housing to the villages of Taliban fighters who defect and recently formed a 70-member High Peace Council to facilitate negotiations. The government and NATO say contacts are being made with top insurgent leaders but no formal peace talks are yet under way.
The Taliban have repeatedly denied that any of their top leaders are talking with the government.
"We know the Afghan people support our peace initiative," said deputy presidential spokesman Hamed Elmi. "This year's survey has more positive findings."
Almost twice as many women - 20 percent - as men oppose reconciliation efforts, possibly reflecting their fear that a future government that included Taliban would seek to curtail women's freedoms.
"Afghan women will be the losers," if negotiations to share power with the Taliban succeed, said Samira Hamidi, the head of the Afghan Women's Network, a coalition of organizations working on women's issues.
Right now, women can travel freely, go to school, speak in public about their rights, even work as parliamentarians or ministers, she said. Women fear those freedoms would be taken away if the Taliban are included in government, she said.
The government is widely perceived as corrupt and dependent on its foreign allies, said the survey.
More than three-quarters of respondents said they felt corruption was a major problem in Afghanistan, and it was rated the third biggest problem after insecurity and unemployment. Half of those who had contact with institutions like courts, schools or the police in the past year said they had experienced corruption. Complaints about corruption have been steadily rising since the annual survey first began in 2006.
Only about a third of Afghans thought the police and army could operate without foreign help, highlighting potential difficulties for achieving Karzai's goal of having Afghan security forces take the lead for protecting the nation by 2014. The Afghan army enjoyed the highest level of public confidence, with 91 percent of expressing some to a great deal of confidence in the force. The Afghan police were the next most respected institution, although perhaps underscoring the paucity of choices; 58 percent of respondents also said the force was unprofessional and badly trained.
NATO has intensified training of the police and army over the past year to help improve standards.
Local militias were the least trusted institution, after options that included government ministers, the courts, the election commission and international aid groups.
The Asia Foundation, which conducted the poll, is a nonprofit organization working for a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.
More than 6,400 adults were polled in June and July in all 34 provinces, excluding some dangerous areas. The survey, conducted with financial backing from the U.S. Agency for International Development, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.