KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — In what is likely to be a boon for Gen. David Petraeus, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, a new survey shows that for the second year in a row an increasing number of Afghans believe the country is “moving in the right direction.”
As President Barack Obama prepares to review the Afghan war effort in December, General Petraeus has been under pressure to produce quantifiable signs of progress. Though the new survey does cast some dark shadows on corruption and security in Afghanistan, in many regards it paints the situation here in an optimistic light.
For a number of Afghans, however, such positive findings coming at such a critical time for the United States have sowed seeds of doubt about the veracity of the results.
“This is something strange for me, because generally when I talk with people they are hopeless and they worry about the situation in Afghanistan,” says Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, head of the Regional Studies Center of Afghanistan in Kabul. “Some people in Afghanistan think that these kinds of surveys and research produce data for an American audience, not an Afghan one.”
The survey, conducted by The Asia Foundation and funded by the US Agency for International Development, found that 47 percent of Afghans say their country was going in the right direction, compared with 42 percent in 2009 and 38 percent in 2008.
Good security and reconstruction were among the main reasons cited by respondents as the source of their optimism.
Among the 27 percent who said they did not think that Afghanistan was going in a good direction, insecurity and corruption were listed as the main cause for their pessimism.
Serious concerns about corruption
While the survey indicates that Afghans may feel increasingly better about the overall direction of their country, it has also highlighted serious concerns about corruption. This year the number of people worried about corruption jumped to 27 percent compared with only 17 percent last year.
In Afghanistan as a whole, 76 percent of respondents listed corruption as a major problem and only 5 percent said it was not a problem. Another 53 percent said the level of corruption had increased this year compared with last year.
A recent report by Transparency International listed Afghanistan as the second most corrupt nation.
Corruption poses a major threat to the future stability of the Afghan government. It has served as an effective propaganda tool for the Taliban and other insurgent groups, who have capitalized on Afghans’ frustrations with the government.
Afghans doubt survey results
In the meantime, the survey is proving a tough sell for many Afghans who see it as incongruous with the attitudes of their friends and family.
“This survey was funded by USAID and that’s an American organization,” says Javed Hamim, senior editor of Pajhwok, one of Afghanistan’s leading news agencies. “This survey looks like a US-backed survey, so I don’t think it will be reliable.”
Though the survey’s authors report that there is only a 4.4 percent margin of error, many Afghans say the results play too conveniently to American interests to be believable.
“They have their own goals with this survey. It is not real,” says Mohammad Hasan Walasmal, an independent political analyst in Kabul. “It is just a technique of America to show to their people an achievement.”