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As the war in Afghanistan enters another summer of increasing violence, the international community is focusing its attention on Kandahar province, the spiritual and political heartland of the Taliban insurgency. At the same time, there is growing pressure for a withdrawal among the public in the member countries of the NATO-ISAF coalition is growing.
To assess the attitude of the Afghan people towards key issues, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) interviewed 552 Afghan men across Kandahar and Helmand provinces in June 2010.
Similarly the Taliban and its affiliates must be prevented from fomenting chaos in other neighbouring states, particularly in Central Asia.1 If either of these scenarios comes to pass, the international community will have failed in Afghanistan – an outcome which would raise serious questions about the very future of NATO and the international order.
Concerns Regarding Future Fidelity of Afghan Government
The international community needs a guarantee of fidelity from both the Afghan government, and the Afghan people, that they will not tolerate Al Qaeda or other hostile groups to operate from Afghanistan‟s territory. Currently the support and alliance of the Afghan government is not assured. President Karzai, fearing a rapid withdrawal of NATO-ISAF troops, is already reaching out to other states – Pakistan, Iran, and China, amongst them. We could be confronted with a situation where the international community will have invested an enormous military, financial and political effort into an ally that is not entirely reliable and may not entirely share our determination to defeat Al Qaeda. Relying solely on the Afghan government as an ally is not sufficient.
Good Relationship with Afghan People Necessary
Bad News: Struggling to Secure Popular Support in Southern Afghanistan
These results are troubling, and demonstrate the mistrust and resentment felt towards the international presence in Afghanistan. Of those interviewed, 70% believe that recent military actions in their area were bad for the Afghan people, whilst 59% opposed further operations in Kandahar. According to interviewees, the Afghan government is also responsible by failing to provide good governance. 70% of respondents believe that local officials make money from drug trafficking, and an astonishing 64% state that government administrators in their area were connected to the Taliban insurgency.
These problems have contributed to growing support for the Taliban, with 65% of respondents calling for Mullah Omar to join the Afghan government. Interviewees also believe that there are strong links between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. 80% stated that if the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda would return.
Good News: Positive Attitudes an Opportunity for the International Community
There is some progress in women´s rights, with 57% of interviewees supporting girls education. The field research also reveals that respondents have strong social and economic aspirations – the most popular uses for $5000USD would be establishing or expanding a business, and marriage.
The interviews also indicate that negativity is not directed solely against the international coalition, but also to other outside parties. 62% of the interviewees believe Pakistan played a negative role in their country and 56% felt negative about Iran‟s influence in Afghanistan. This presents an opportunity for the coalition to differentiate itself from other actors through being trustworthy and genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Afghan people. It also underscores the need for a truly regional strategy for Afghanistan, one that involves neighbouring states as well as Western countries.
Interesting News: Social and Cultural Mapping
Closing this relationship gap and reducing Taliban support will require the international community to communicate its message more effectively in three key ways – explaining why we are there, what we can bring which the Taliban cannot, and building a lasting alliance with the next generation. To date, our efforts in creating this type of grassroots political campaign have been ineffective, leaving a vacuum the Taliban have filled.
We must know the Afghan people better and explain ourselves better. The international community does not understand or meet the basic needs of ordinary Afghans, and they in turn do not understand the reasons for our presence. This must be addressed to reduce mutual suspicions. Addressing the increasingly chronic challenges of humanitarian and development assistance, as well as expressing the international community‟s respect for Afghan religion and culture, are necessary to build effective positive and lasting relationships.
We must win the narrative by making a clear case that the Afghan people have a better future by aligning themselves with the International coalition and its security concerns, rather than with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Taliban and Al Qaeda cannot bring prosperity or freedom. The international community, despite its shortcomings, presents a better future for Afghans and their families.
We must also empower NextGenAfg, the next generation of Afghans, by providing social, economic and political opportunities. This will allow them to lead the country out of the current cycle of violence, and will reduce the current pool of potential Taliban recruits.