Afghan Opinion Trends Downward but Isn’t Hopeless

The Asia Foundation just released its latest Afghanistan public opinion survey to general disinterest. You can find a summary of the key findings at the foundation’s In Asia blog, as well as past surveys here at the Asia Foundation’s site. The key indicators show a downward trend in terms of overall optimism. But as Josh Foust at Registannotes in his preliminary analysis, the report still seems lesspessimistic than a lot of recent Western commentary (my own included).

The emerging disparities in terms of security between various regionsof the country reminded me of something that occurred to me whilereading Nir Rosen’s recent Rolling Stone piece,which described how a ring of insecurity separated Kabul from moredistant, secured provinces. The road leading out of the capital,according to Rosen, was littered with destroyed coalition trucks.Counterinsurgency doctrine often refers to the imagery of “spreadingoil stains” to illustrate the idea of clear, secure and hold. When youdon’t have enough manpower for true counterinsurgency, as is the casein Afghanistan, you depend on force multipliers such as tacticalairlift (helicopters) and air support (whether manned or unmanned).That kind of skipping around from one secured zone to another,especially in terrain like Afghanistan, leaves a lot space forinsurgents to fill.

Interestingly, as Foust points out, Afghans seem to have more securityconcerns regarding crime than they do regarding the insurgency. I wasalso struck by how few consider themselves economically better off thanunder the Taliban:

Unemployment is identified as a major problem at the local level, andthere has been very little improvement in employment opportunities overthe last two years. Expectations of future improvement are lowest inthis area, and a significant proportion of respondents expectavailability of jobs to be even lower in the coming year.

Unemployment fuels insurgencies, yet somehow in both Iraq andAfghanistan, we haven’t managed to create meaningful employmentopportunities outside of the security apparatus. Essentailly, we’vemilitarized the fighting-age men we can, and left the rest to their owndevices. Not a very prudent strategy in countries that still face a majorrisk of future civil conflict.