Optimism Holds in Afghanistan; Support Grows for Talks with Taliban

Just-released polling data finds that optimism among Afghans remained surprisingly durable in the first half of 2010, but with significant changes in attitudes on two fronts: Greater support for negotiations with the Taliban, and a drop in already tepid public preference for a democratic form of government.

Sharp regional differences remain, with optimism much weaker in the main conflict zone in the country’s South. Nonetheless, overall 63 percent of Afghans interviewed in May said their country was going in the right direction, 66 percent expected improvements in their own lives a year off and 61 percent expected better lives for their children than for themselves.

Attitudes since May – and their future course – await further data, with concern warranted given the rise in civilian casualties as fighting has intensified. Nonetheless these results are the most recent publicly available nationally representative survey research from Afghanistan.

Among the changes, preference for democracy as the best political system for the country fell from 32 percent in December to 23 percent in May; it now ranks third behind preference for an Islamic state, 45 percent, or a “strong leader,” 30 percent.

In another shift, 74 percent of Afghans favored negotiations in which the Taliban would be allowed to hold political offices if it agrees to stop fighting, up 9 points from December to May. There is a hitch, though: Among those who favored negotiations, three-quarters (76 percent) said talks should occur only if the Taliban first stops fighting – about the same as previously.

The survey was conducted by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research and its parent company, D3 Systems, as part of their “Afghan Futures” project on public attitudes there. Analysis was done by Langer Research Associates - click here for the full report.

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