the significance of the afghan poll

In anticipation of the new Environics poll of Afghans I engaged in my biannual ceremonial watching of the CBC news. This poll is groundbreaking stuff since, until now, we’ve had very little data on what Afghans think. What is interesting about the poll isn’t the results per say, but the strength of the results. Equally interesting is the impact this could have politically here at home.

The Results

For example, people’s opinion of Canadian troops in Kandahar is remarkably positive, with 60% having a favourable opinion.

In addition – given the press reports we receive here in Canada – Afghans are actually comparatively upbeat about the effectiveness of the mission is itself.

I’d encourage everyone to take a look at the raw results yourself, they can be found on the Environics webpage.

The political impact

Before we begin, a caveat. I’m sure there are those who are thinking: this poll was commissioned by Conservatives and was rigged to ensure a desirable outcome. This could not be further from the truth. This poll is the brain child of Environics which wanted to bring the Afghan perspective into the debate. It is important to note that Environics is the same company that brought us Fire and Ice, a book that presents a rather unflattering picture of America and argues Americans and Canadians are becoming more different. This is no right wing organization – if anything it leans the opposite way.

I argued earlier in the week that the Liberal position on Afghan has been pretty suspect. This poll makes things worse. To be blunt, it’s a disaster for the NDP and damaging for the Liberals.

The NDP position has been based on the assumption that the mission is a mess. Now we have evidence that Afghans actually want Canadians there, they don’t like the Taliban and they believe we are doing a relatively good job. We can no longer claim we’d be leaving a divided country that doesn’t want us.

For the Liberals the problem is similar – this is the party that spent two decades constructing a foreign policy around the human security agenda. More importantly, it has always wanted Canada’s foreign policy resources to “do good.” It would appear that the Afghans believe we are doing just that. In addition, if we left, we would jeopardizes this success. Both the NDP and the Liberals now have to explain why we should leave and risk abandoning the Afghans.

However, the poll creates a nuanced public policy challenge – one the Conservatives are susceptible to succumbing to. The danger is this poll will eliminate the option to leave Afghanistan under any conditions. This would be a grave mistake. There are a number of things that could dramatically alter the conditions that created this poll’s results. For example, spraying the opium fields with pesticides could turn significant parts of the population against both the international force and the Karzai government. Making the assumption that these polling numbers would be the same under such conditions could trap us in a rapidly deteriorating situation. For the time being, it appears the locals believe we are effective, and are grateful. If our allies take actions that would create a new set of conditions that threaten to destabilize the current environment then we should be prepared to announce we too will take action, including the possibility of pulling out.

20 thoughts on “the significance of the afghan poll

  1. Danistan

    Beyond the Canadian context, this will be welcome news to NATO and will hopefully convince member states to renew or augment their own military commitments to ISAF.

    I would agree that the way in which the poppy question is dealt with is going to have a long-term impact on the success of the mission.

    Reply
  2. me

    your full of it, 1500 respondent, in afghanistan, where do these 1500 come from, there is diversity in that country with diverse opinions, and how did they do this poll, not while walkin in the streets, I can assure you, not by phone, no one has a phone, not online, no computer, the only way is to ask those who asociate and work for the occupation…which makes this poll, an “embeded” endevour. get the point, my closet right winger….

    Reply
  3. David Eaves Post author

    Ah “me” who is so strident and firm in his/her belief they need to post anonymously…

    Have you read the methodology section of the survey? Did you know that 1500 people is the standard sample size for any population? More importantly, had you read that part of the survey before posting you’d have learned they actually did do this survey while walking in the streets. (and ensuring only women surveyed women and men surveyed men).

    What is interesting is that when data presents itself that challenges your world view you don’t try to nuance you understanding of the world, you simply find ways to ignore the data. This is the same trait that cause people to call Bush a mindless ideologue.

    For those who still believe the CBC and Environics are part of a vast right wing conspiracy here is the methodology section of the survey, judge for yourself:

    “The survey was conducted in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. A total of 177 sampling points were distributed proportional to population size in each province, stratified by urban/non-urban status to yield a national sample of 1,278, with an additional 25 sampling points representing 100 boosted interviews in Kabul and 200 boosted interviews in Kandahar. Sampling points were then distributed to randomly selected districts within provinces, also proportionate to population size; and lastly to randomly selected villages or neighborhoods within those districts, by simple random sampling. Sources for population parameters were United Nations population estimates and population projections from the Afghan Central Statistical Office.

    The data are not weighted, but are reported separately for national sample of 1,278 interviews, total Kabul interviews of 270, and total Kandahar interviews of 260. The margins of sampling error (at the 95% confidence level) are as follows: Total sample of 1,578 (+/-3.8%); national sample of 1,278 (+/-4.1%); Kandahar subsample (+/- 7.3%); Kabul subsample (+/-7.3%).

    Male respondents were interviewed only by male interviewers and female respondents only by female interviewers, ensuring that half of the sampling points were designated for male interviews and half for female. Residences were selected within each settlement by random route/random interval and respondents were selected within residence by Kish grid. Ten interviews were conducted per sampling point in 114 of the 202 sampling points, and 5 interviews were conducted per sampling point in 88 of the sampling points. Having 88 sampling points with 5 interviews in each was part of an effort to further expand geographic coverage in the survey.

    Interviews were conducted by 178 interviewers in 34 supervised teams. All interviewers were trained and most had experience on previous ACSOR administered surveys. Ten percent of interviews were directly observed by field supervisors, and an additional 17 percent were back-checked after the interviews, with further logical controls on all questionnaires conducted at the ACSOR offices in Kabul.

    The survey had a contact rate of 91 percent and a co-operation rate of 85 percent.”

    Reply
  4. BB

    I am not convinced that the views of 1500 people in Afghanistan should be of paramount importance in deciding whether we should stay and fight their civil war. Aid and training maybe, but not fighting all the time as is the case now. If the Europeans are not willing to replace us for at least one term in 2009, then we should leave.

    Reply
  5. Danistan

    Beyond the Canadian context, this will be welcome news to NATO and will hopefully convince member states to renew or augment their own military commitments to ISAF.I would agree that the way in which the poppy question is dealt with is going to have a long-term impact on the success of the mission.

    Reply
  6. David Eaves Post author

    BB,thank you for the comment…

    It is not the views of 1500 people, it is a window into what Afghan’s are thinking (unless one doesn’t believe in polls).

    I think there is a nuanced position under you statement, one I can understand. However, this notion that we are fighting “all the time” is itself problematic. Canada is doing many things, aid, diplomacy and fighting. More importantly, some of that fighting is necessary to create a secure environment so that diplomacy and aid can happen.

    Are you saying that if the Europeans are unwilling to replace us we should leave because that is a sign the mission isn’t working? It isn’t the metric I would choose, but I understand the position.

    But why should our commitment be dependent on the Europeans? If we access that we cannot succeed – then we should leave, if we access that the mission is not important/doesn’t meet national interests, we should leave. But should our foreign policy decisions be based on what the Europeans are or aren’t willing to do? I need to learn more about the logic behind that thought.

    Reply
  7. me

    your full of it, 1500 respondent, in afghanistan, where do these 1500 come from, there is diversity in that country with diverse opinions, and how did they do this poll, not while walkin in the streets, I can assure you, not by phone, no one has a phone, not online, no computer, the only way is to ask those who asociate and work for the occupation…which makes this poll, an “embeded” endevour. get the point, my closet right winger….

    Reply
  8. David Eaves

    Ah “me” who is so strident and firm in his/her belief they need to post anonymously…Have you read the methodology section of the survey? Did you know that 1500 people is the standard sample size for any population? More importantly, had you read that part of the survey before posting you’d have learned they actually did do this survey while walking in the streets. (and ensuring only women surveyed women and men surveyed men).What is interesting is that when data presents itself that challenges your world view you don’t try to nuance you understanding of the world, you simply find ways to ignore the data. This is the same trait that cause people to call Bush a mindless ideologue.For those who still believe the CBC and Environics are part of a vast right wing conspiracy here is the methodology section of the survey, judge for yourself:

    “The survey was conducted in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. A total of 177 sampling points were distributed proportional to population size in each province, stratified by urban/non-urban status to yield a national sample of 1,278, with an additional 25 sampling points representing 100 boosted interviews in Kabul and 200 boosted interviews in Kandahar. Sampling points were then distributed to randomly selected districts within provinces, also proportionate to population size; and lastly to randomly selected villages or neighborhoods within those districts, by simple random sampling. Sources for population parameters were United Nations population estimates and population projections from the Afghan Central Statistical Office.The data are not weighted, but are reported separately for national sample of 1,278 interviews, total Kabul interviews of 270, and total Kandahar interviews of 260. The margins of sampling error (at the 95% confidence level) are as follows: Total sample of 1,578 (+/-3.8%); national sample of 1,278 (+/-4.1%); Kandahar subsample (+/- 7.3%); Kabul subsample (+/-7.3%).Male respondents were interviewed only by male interviewers and female respondents only by female interviewers, ensuring that half of the sampling points were designated for male interviews and half for female. Residences were selected within each settlement by random route/random interval and respondents were selected within residence by Kish grid. Ten interviews were conducted per sampling point in 114 of the 202 sampling points, and 5 interviews were conducted per sampling point in 88 of the sampling points. Having 88 sampling points with 5 interviews in each was part of an effort to further expand geographic coverage in the survey.Interviews were conducted by 178 interviewers in 34 supervised teams. All interviewers were trained and most had experience on previous ACSOR administered surveys. Ten percent of interviews were directly observed by field supervisors, and an additional 17 percent were back-checked after the interviews, with further logical controls on all questionnaires conducted at the ACSOR offices in Kabul.The survey had a contact rate of 91 percent and a co-operation rate of 85 percent.”

    Reply
  9. BB

    I am not convinced that the views of 1500 people in Afghanistan should be of paramount importance in deciding whether we should stay and fight their civil war. Aid and training maybe, but not fighting all the time as is the case now. If the Europeans are not willing to replace us for at least one term in 2009, then we should leave.

    Reply
  10. David Eaves

    BB,thank you for the comment…It is not the views of 1500 people, it is a window into what Afghan’s are thinking (unless one doesn’t believe in polls).I think there is a nuanced position under you statement, one I can understand. However, this notion that we are fighting “all the time” is itself problematic. Canada is doing many things, aid, diplomacy and fighting. More importantly, some of that fighting is necessary to create a secure environment so that diplomacy and aid can happen. Are you saying that if the Europeans are unwilling to replace us we should leave because that is a sign the mission isn’t working? It isn’t the metric I would choose, but I understand the position.But why should our commitment be dependent on the Europeans? If we access that we cannot succeed – then we should leave, if we access that the mission is not important/doesn’t meet national interests, we should leave. But should our foreign policy decisions be based on what the Europeans are or aren’t willing to do? I need to learn more about the logic behind that thought.

    Reply
  11. Kim Feraday

    Hi David,

    A couple of comments. From the coverage I’ve seen most Afghani’s view our role as primarily one of aid, reconstruction etc. They still view the U.S. as the primary military component of this mission. We, of course, know differently. We also know that most military spending has far outweighed aid and reconstruction.

    What this tells me is that we should be allocating more funds to aid and alter the military component to one of security and less to combat. It’s really dubious whether agressive military action will have a significant lasting impact anyways given the geopolitical realites.

    Also keep in mind that this is a NATO operation not a Canadian one. We do in fact need other participants to step up sooner than later. What the Europeans are willing to do is a clear indication of NATO’s willingness to sustain the mission. The burden shoudn’t fall on one or two countries. If they are not then we should reevaluate our overall participation.

    We also need to take into account American policy. As you point out they seem relatively unwilling to consider allowing farmers to continue to produce opium, even though many see this as a critical component to overall success. If the Americans are going to continue down this path it will put the success of the mission at risk so again we should take this into consideration in evaluating our participation.

    Finally, given most counter-insurgencies last 10 years or more, we need our political leaders to clearly state their position and how this will affect our ability to participate in other regions of the world. I don’t particularly see any of the parties doing a good job on Afghanistan and this poll doesn’t change my opinion at all.

    Reply
  12. Kim Feraday

    Hi David,A couple of comments. From the coverage I’ve seen most Afghani’s view our role as primarily one of aid, reconstruction etc. They still view the U.S. as the primary military component of this mission. We, of course, know differently. We also know that most military spending has far outweighed aid and reconstruction. What this tells me is that we should be allocating more funds to aid and alter the military component to one of security and less to combat. It’s really dubious whether agressive military action will have a significant lasting impact anyways given the geopolitical realites. Also keep in mind that this is a NATO operation not a Canadian one. We do in fact need other participants to step up sooner than later. What the Europeans are willing to do is a clear indication of NATO’s willingness to sustain the mission. The burden shoudn’t fall on one or two countries. If they are not then we should reevaluate our overall participation. We also need to take into account American policy. As you point out they seem relatively unwilling to consider allowing farmers to continue to produce opium, even though many see this as a critical component to overall success. If the Americans are going to continue down this path it will put the success of the mission at risk so again we should take this into consideration in evaluating our participation. Finally, given most counter-insurgencies last 10 years or more, we need our political leaders to clearly state their position and how this will affect our ability to participate in other regions of the world. I don’t particularly see any of the parties doing a good job on Afghanistan and this poll doesn’t change my opinion at all.

    Reply
  13. Jeremy Vernon

    I was heartened to review the poll, given that my understanding of the Afghan mission comes from a blending of news reports and statements made by politicians – hardly a cocktail for accuracy.

    I find the criticism of dollar distribution rings a little hollow to my admittedly underinformed ears. Military efforts are probably the most expensive endeavours humanity undertakes – from a dollars perspective and possibly from sheer sacrifice. To look at allocations of expenditure and say we’re overspending on the military because we’re spending a lot on it is, I would think, hasty.

    Moreover, if those development efforts aren’t made secure, and the groups seeking to destroy them aren’t neutralized the expenditure on them would be totally wasted.

    I don’t know the figures with regard to expense, or even qualitative data (or even where to find such information reliably and comprehensively in a way comprehendable by mere mortals). But it would make sense to me abstract that the military component would be, by a significant margin, the most expensive followed by development since development is cheaper and faces pretty steep diminishing marginal returns.

    Altogether, I am unsurprised at the poll results. The preference to the Canadian Military over the Taliban is intuitively obvious, the data seem to prove it out.

    Reply
  14. Jeremy Vernon

    I was heartened to review the poll, given that my understanding of the Afghan mission comes from a blending of news reports and statements made by politicians – hardly a cocktail for accuracy. I find the criticism of dollar distribution rings a little hollow to my admittedly underinformed ears. Military efforts are probably the most expensive endeavours humanity undertakes – from a dollars perspective and possibly from sheer sacrifice. To look at allocations of expenditure and say we’re overspending on the military because we’re spending a lot on it is, I would think, hasty. Moreover, if those development efforts aren’t made secure, and the groups seeking to destroy them aren’t neutralized the expenditure on them would be totally wasted.I don’t know the figures with regard to expense, or even qualitative data (or even where to find such information reliably and comprehensively in a way comprehendable by mere mortals). But it would make sense to me abstract that the military component would be, by a significant margin, the most expensive followed by development since development is cheaper and faces pretty steep diminishing marginal returns.Altogether, I am unsurprised at the poll results. The preference to the Canadian Military over the Taliban is intuitively obvious, the data seem to prove it out.

    Reply
  15. brenton walters

    Great replies, David. This poll was going to be controversial no matter the results. When I first heard there was going to be a poll I was skeptical, but then after reading the methodology I got excited about it. Kudos to Environics for putting such a great effort into this important work.

    The Liberal position makes sense if one sees it as wanting a break from the intensity of the mission in the southern region. That isn’t their position exactly, but it is how it might be interpreted. I disagree with their position, but at least there is some merit to it.

    Reply
  16. brenton walters

    Great replies, David. This poll was going to be controversial no matter the results. When I first heard there was going to be a poll I was skeptical, but then after reading the methodology I got excited about it. Kudos to Environics for putting such a great effort into this important work.The Liberal position makes sense if one sees it as wanting a break from the intensity of the mission in the southern region. That isn’t their position exactly, but it is how it might be interpreted. I disagree with their position, but at least there is some merit to it.

    Reply
  17. Peter Hiddema

    Hi David,

    I read the entire poll on Environics’ site, and the methodology as well – which was thorough, and heartening in that regard.

    I have to say I was pleased to see this positive glimpse of what a representative sample of Afghans think about the work being done by the international community in general, and Canadians in particular. Furthermore, I am delighted that an organization like Environics (and its partners) took the initiative to undertake this endeavour. I feel we really need information like this to help us make an informed choice, and I am heartened by the progress being made. No one can ever replace the lives lost (on anyone’s part) in Afghanistan, yet, when we see that the Afghans themselves believe things are improving, I feel more at ease with the choice our country has made to be there.

    On the question of the poppy crops, this is indeed a difficult one. At the end of the day, if people don’t have a way to earn a livelihood, trouble only increases. Any hasty decision by a foreign power (the US or others) to destroy people’s ability to earn a living, without providing some viable alternative, is likely to undo important components of the progress made to date.

    Keep up the blogging David – you’re helping foster thoughtful debate (and hopefully action as well) about important matters.

    Reply
  18. Peter Hiddema

    Hi David,I read the entire poll on Environics’ site, and the methodology as well – which was thorough, and heartening in that regard. I have to say I was pleased to see this positive glimpse of what a representative sample of Afghans think about the work being done by the international community in general, and Canadians in particular. Furthermore, I am delighted that an organization like Environics (and its partners) took the initiative to undertake this endeavour. I feel we really need information like this to help us make an informed choice, and I am heartened by the progress being made. No one can ever replace the lives lost (on anyone’s part) in Afghanistan, yet, when we see that the Afghans themselves believe things are improving, I feel more at ease with the choice our country has made to be there. On the question of the poppy crops, this is indeed a difficult one. At the end of the day, if people don’t have a way to earn a livelihood, trouble only increases. Any hasty decision by a foreign power (the US or others) to destroy people’s ability to earn a living, without providing some viable alternative, is likely to undo important components of the progress made to date. Keep up the blogging David – you’re helping foster thoughtful debate (and hopefully action as well) about important matters.

    Reply
  19. Sarah Kamal

    Sorry, I know this is ages after the fact, but I just wanted to respond to your comments about the CBC/Environics poll, which has raised concern among people who have worked in Afghanistan. I was on a trip to Afghanistan when it was released, hence this timelag.

    If you’re still interested, here are some points that I think bear some discussion on the poll’s methodology:

    Concerns with Validity –

    Methodology involves entering people’s homes and ask people’s opinions on the military, especially the Afghan National Army/Afghan National Police. While the ANA/ANP are not quite like the militia in Iraq yet, they (esp the ANP) are very corrupt and often seen as dangerous to civilians.

    Poll was conducted from September 17-24th, right at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadan, which for many Muslims represents a period of charity and goodwill, and when the good that is done by fasting can be considered void is one speaks ill of others behind
    their backs.

    Afghans’ oral culture and hospitable nature makes the linearity, aggressively
    direct, and confinement of responses into five categories of intensity (highly agree, somewhat agree, etc) bewildering. My own direct attempts at conducting quantitative research in Afghanistan are written up here (Kish grid, audience research survey):
    http://cms.mit.edu/research/theses/SarahKamal2005.pdf, pages 42-3, 81-3. The problems I’ve listed in my Master’s thesis barely skim the surface of the research challenges I’ve continued to have while conducting my PhD.

    I have spent 7 years working in and around Afghanistan as an academic, development practitioner, and “undercover Afghan.” As a Dari-speaking Afghan-looking woman, I have tended to find that after you scratch the surface of Afghan discourse, something else comes out that could never adequately be captured in as blunt and culturally unfamiliar a tool as a western poll. I usually find that people from other cultures tend not to appreciate the underlying resentment or suspicion felt by many Muslims towards the powerful West, and how quickly it can bubble up over a quiet discussion over a cup of tea.

    Finding a good facilitator for polling is hard in Afghanistan. ACSOR has done polls for organizations like the Asia Foundation (said to have been founded with CIA funding) and the US state department, and their polls tend to have eyebrow raising results which run counter to other research but are advantageous for suggesting the military operations are running well. The Environics poll is not the first strange public opinion poll coming out of Afghanistan by ACSOR.

    Sometimes the timing of the release of such polls is telling. I did a survey of publicly available public opinion in Afghanistan in Dec 2005, it is available here: http://c4o.unitycode.org/me/PeaceConditionalities.final.20060413.pdf . The studies that I looked at are listed in the appendix. Shortly after I finished this study (which found sharp pessimism and a downturn in public opinion), a new quantitative survey was released that claimed that Afghans were very pleased with the reconstruction process and international presence, released right before a major donor conference. This was in the same year that friends of mine were chased out of a UN compound in Jalalabad by angry mobs, who set fire to the compound. Also the same year as the Koran riots and Afghan Minister of Planning Bashardoost winning major public support in demanding that NGOs leave the country.

    Methodology doesn’t state how questions were piloted. Were there ways of triangulating responses? For instance, if people are so positive about the future, why is it that in the Environics poll only 40% think the government and foreigners will prevail in the current conflict? (20% believe the Taliban will win, 40% don’t know). 20% believe Al Qaida is a positive force in the country – how does that mesh with other responses?

    Concerns with generalizability –

    Poor to non-existent communications and road infrastructure in rural areas, inadequate mapping, lack of security, illiteracy, widely divergent population estimates and shifting displaced populations hamper statistical generalizability of their poll of about 1,500 Afghans.

    I have been in Afghanistan many times in the last 6 years, and in my three visits this year I found the security situation to be the worst I have ever seen. I first entered Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban, and even then did not feel as threatened as I did in my most recent journey in October 2007. There is no sense of safety anywhere, and even longtime Afghan friends of mine now feel uncomfortable entering downtown Kabul. Such fears could only have worsened with the Nov 6th suicide bomb killing children and MPs in Baghlan, formerly considered a “safe” area.

    I have been wrong more times than I can count when it comes to Afghanistan, which I find a fascinating and unendingly complicated space. I don’t object to surprising research findings, but I do object to bad science that run counter to common sense. The Environics poll runs counter to what I and other longtime development workers have found to be the mood in the country (including a practitioner who has lived for 6 years in Kandahar). The poll is also dangerous, in my opinion, because the word for expressing the public’s mood that is more and more being bandied about in expert circles, and among Afghans, is “occupation.” I was a panelist at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference this weekend, and everybody there agreed with that framing. So I believe it is particularly important to not allow a poll (which, as we understand, even in the best of situations is just a poll and not reflective of anything other than what people choose to say to a pollster) to be taken as more than it is.

    If the poll is to have an impact on policy, then I would say that is unfortunate, as it is quite misleading.

    Best regards,

    Sarah Kamal
    2007 Trudeau Scholar
    PhD Candidate, London School of Economics

    Reply
  20. Sarah Kamal

    Sorry, I know this is ages after the fact, but I just wanted to respond to your comments about the CBC/Environics poll, which has raised concern among people who have worked in Afghanistan. I was on a trip to Afghanistan when it was released, hence this timelag.If you’re still interested, here are some points that I think bear some discussion on the poll’s methodology:Concerns with Validity -Methodology involves entering people’s homes and ask people’s opinions on the military, especially the Afghan National Army/Afghan National Police. While the ANA/ANP are not quite like the militia in Iraq yet, they (esp the ANP) are very corrupt and often seen as dangerous to civilians.Poll was conducted from September 17-24th, right at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadan, which for many Muslims represents a period of charity and goodwill, and when the good that is done by fasting can be considered void is one speaks ill of others behindtheir backs.Afghans’ oral culture and hospitable nature makes the linearity, aggressivelydirect, and confinement of responses into five categories of intensity (highly agree, somewhat agree, etc) bewildering. My own direct attempts at conducting quantitative research in Afghanistan are written up here (Kish grid, audience research survey):http://cms.mit.edu/research/theses/SarahKamal20…, pages 42-3, 81-3. The problems I’ve listed in my Master’s thesis barely skim the surface of the research challenges I’ve continued to have while conducting my PhD.I have spent 7 years working in and around Afghanistan as an academic, development practitioner, and “undercover Afghan.” As a Dari-speaking Afghan-looking woman, I have tended to find that after you scratch the surface of Afghan discourse, something else comes out that could never adequately be captured in as blunt and culturally unfamiliar a tool as a western poll. I usually find that people from other cultures tend not to appreciate the underlying resentment or suspicion felt by many Muslims towards the powerful West, and how quickly it can bubble up over a quiet discussion over a cup of tea.Finding a good facilitator for polling is hard in Afghanistan. ACSOR has done polls for organizations like the Asia Foundation (said to have been founded with CIA funding) and the US state department, and their polls tend to have eyebrow raising results which run counter to other research but are advantageous for suggesting the military operations are running well. The Environics poll is not the first strange public opinion poll coming out of Afghanistan by ACSOR. Sometimes the timing of the release of such polls is telling. I did a survey of publicly available public opinion in Afghanistan in Dec 2005, it is available here: http://c4o.unitycode.org/me/PeaceConditionaliti… . The studies that I looked at are listed in the appendix. Shortly after I finished this study (which found sharp pessimism and a downturn in public opinion), a new quantitative survey was released that claimed that Afghans were very pleased with the reconstruction process and international presence, released right before a major donor conference. This was in the same year that friends of mine were chased out of a UN compound in Jalalabad by angry mobs, who set fire to the compound. Also the same year as the Koran riots and Afghan Minister of Planning Bashardoost winning major public support in demanding that NGOs leave the country.Methodology doesn’t state how questions were piloted. Were there ways of triangulating responses? For instance, if people are so positive about the future, why is it that in the Environics poll only 40% think the government and foreigners will prevail in the current conflict? (20% believe the Taliban will win, 40% don’t know). 20% believe Al Qaida is a positive force in the country – how does that mesh with other responses?Concerns with generalizability -Poor to non-existent communications and road infrastructure in rural areas, inadequate mapping, lack of security, illiteracy, widely divergent population estimates and shifting displaced populations hamper statistical generalizability of their poll of about 1,500 Afghans. –I have been in Afghanistan many times in the last 6 years, and in my three visits this year I found the security situation to be the worst I have ever seen. I first entered Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban, and even then did not feel as threatened as I did in my most recent journey in October 2007. There is no sense of safety anywhere, and even longtime Afghan friends of mine now feel uncomfortable entering downtown Kabul. Such fears could only have worsened with the Nov 6th suicide bomb killing children and MPs in Baghlan, formerly considered a “safe” area. I have been wrong more times than I can count when it comes to Afghanistan, which I find a fascinating and unendingly complicated space. I don’t object to surprising research findings, but I do object to bad science that run counter to common sense. The Environics poll runs counter to what I and other longtime development workers have found to be the mood in the country (including a practitioner who has lived for 6 years in Kandahar). The poll is also dangerous, in my opinion, because the word for expressing the public’s mood that is more and more being bandied about in expert circles, and among Afghans, is “occupation.” I was a panelist at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference this weekend, and everybody there agreed with that framing. So I believe it is particularly important to not allow a poll (which, as we understand, even in the best of situations is just a poll and not reflective of anything other than what people choose to say to a pollster) to be taken as more than it is. If the poll is to have an impact on policy, then I would say that is unfortunate, as it is quite misleading. Best regards,Sarah Kamal2007 Trudeau ScholarPhD Candidate, London School of Economics

    Reply

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