KABUL, Afghanistan – Most Afghans believe their country is headed in the right direction but still worry about the lack of security resulting from the 11-year war, a public opinion survey by a major international nonprofit group said Wednesday.
The poll by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation also found that an overwhelming majority of Afghans back the government's efforts to negotiate and reconcile with armed insurgent groups.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered jobs and housing to Taliban fighters who defect and formed a High Peace Council to facilitate negotiations. Though officials and diplomats say contacts are being made with insurgent leaders, no formal peace talks are currently under way — mostly because the Taliban broke off efforts to start negotiations earlier this year.
"Security continues to be the biggest indicator of both optimism and pessimism for Afghans, said Abdullah Ahmadzai, the deputy representative for Afghanistan with the Asia Foundation.
Only 30 percent of respondents in the poll expressed sympathy for the insurgents, while nearly two-thirds said they did not support them.
But when asked why the Taliban continue to fight, the most common reason cited was opposition to the presence of foreign troops in the country. Other reasons included a desire to gain power, illiteracy, support from Pakistan and corruption.
Despite their opposition to the Taliban, many respondents also said they were also afraid of the troops from the U.S.-led NATO coalition and government's security forces. Nearly three-quarters said they felt fear when meeting international troops, while just under half said they had the same reaction when encountering the Afghan army or police.
NATO has intensified training of the 352,000-strong Afghan police and army to help improve standards and enable them to operate independently after foreign combat troops leave the country at the end of 2014.
The survey, which included 89 questions on a wide range of issues, showed that the vast majority of Afghans see corruption as a major problem in all facets of life and at all levels of governance. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said graft was a serious problem across the country, the report said.
The in-person survey of 6,290 Afghans from all 34 provinces, conducted with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign agencies, had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percent. The Asia Foundation's annual surveys are regularly cited by many groups working in Afghanistan.
However, since the pollsters could not reach some areas of the country because of security concerns, Asia Foundation said those likely to be more pessimistic about the overall direction of the country were probably underrepresented in the survey.
"We hope these findings will help bridge the gap in understanding between the international community, the Afghan government, and local communities — dialogue necessary for Afghanistan's long-term prospects," Ahmadzai told reporters.