There are some things we just know.
For example, we all know that the US-led mission to Afghanistan has been a complete failure. The Taliban is resurgent and more popular than ever. The government headed up by Hamid Karzai has no support among the population. The Afghan army is a joke. Ask any Afghan and they’ll tell you that the sooner the foreign troops leave the country, the better.
These are the things that we know – and yet they are completely wrong.
There’s a report in today’s Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, of a public opinion poll conducted in Afghanistan. The poll took place in every Afghan province and involved a representative sample of 1,578 Afghans, men and women. The polling was done face-to-face by local Afghans – foreigners were not present.
And here is what the Afghans believe:
51% say that the country is heading in the right direction
59% believe that President Hamid Karzai represents their interests
60% say that the foreign presence since the fall of the Taliban has been a good thing
60% feel that they are better off now than they were five years ago
64% say that those foreign countries are doing a good job fighting the Taliban
65% say that foreign countries are doing a good job providing reconstruction assistance
71% have a very or somewhat positive view of their government
73% think that women are better off now than under the Taliban
84% have some or a lot of confidence in the Afghan national army
Unsurprisingly, when comparing the results by gender it turns out that women “tend to be more negative about the Taliban.”
Now imagine if the same poll were conducted among, say, readers of the Guardian or Independent in the UK. Would it show huge majorities expressing support for and confidence in both the Nato mission and the elected Karzai government? Probably not.
In fact, in most of the countries that are participating the Nato-led effort, there are majorities that want to see that mission come to a very swift end. Yet when pollsters asked Afghans if they wanted the foreign forces to leave immediately, only 14% said yes.
We all know that the Afghan war has been another huge failure for George Bush and the USA – and we know this because we are told it every day by mainstream media in our countries. But the Afghans seem to have a somewhat different view and it just might be possible that they know what they are talking about.
Maybe it’s time we listened.