Good news from Afghanistan

October 22, 2007

At least I think so.

OTTAWA — A strong majority of Afghans approve of the presence of NATO-led troops in their country, including from Canada, and want the foreign soldiers to remain to fight the Taliban and support reconstruction efforts.

In a poll of Afghans conducted by Environics Research on behalf of The Globe and Mail, the CBC and La Presse, respondents expressed optimism about the future, strong support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and appreciation for the work being done by NATO countries in improving security.

In Kandahar, where the Taliban is stronger and violence more pervasive, support for the foreign troops was weaker, but respondents still want the soldiers to stay.

Spread the word.


  1. “Spread the word”, no problems Rob

    Are the CUPE workers out of step with what most Afghans really want? I don’t think they are, based on my own experience listening to what some Afghan workers and intellectuals have to say about our occupation of their country. Instead, I am sceptical of the results of the Environics poll.

    I spent five weeks in June and July of 2007 travelling throughout Afghanistan with my research partner from the Afghanistan Canada Research Group (ACRG) Hamayon Rastgar. Hamayon was born in Afghanistan and is now a Canadian citizen studying at York University.

    Based out of Kabul, I travelled with Hamayon to Bamiyan and Yawkawlang in the central region of Afghanistan, north into Parwan province, and as far south as the city of Ghazni. During Hamayon’s three month visit, he travelled further north to Mazar-e-Sharif and Konduz and as far south as Kandahar City.

    The purpose of our visit was to ask ordinary Afghans — particularly workers and students who do not have a voice in either the international or Afghan media — what they think about the international military intervention in their homeland.

    We set up a video camera on two university campuses in Kabul and Bamiyan, at the teachers’ college in Kabul, on street corners and in markets, and on one occasion even on a mountain top. We invited Afghans to tell us on camera what they think of the international military intervention. Before our camera unfortunately broke down, we recorded thirteen hours of footage.

    I can make no claim that our own research in Afghanistan is scientifically conclusive; it was in fact anecdotal and relied on the self-selection of respondents who volunteered to appear on camera. However, the fact that most people responded negatively to our question regarding their opinion of the international intervention suggests the possibility of a large degree of error in the Environics poll. Our observations of the international development project, or more accurately the lack of implementation of a systemic project for the benefit of most Afghans, also suggest a large degree of error in the Environics poll.

    I wonder about the methodology of the Environics poll. How did the pollsters select who to interview? Was it possible for the interview subjects to feel safe enough to criticise the theocratic military regime under which they are ruled? These and many other questions regarding the methodology of the Environics poll remain unanswered.

    History tells us Afghanistan always was, is still, a lost cause.

    Spread the word 🙂

  2. Shorter Mayor of Kabul: The only reason I attend meetings of my Loyal Jerkoffs, I mean Loya Jirga, is to show off my sartorial splendiferousness on western TV.

  3. I wonder about the methodology of the Environics poll. How did the pollsters select who to interview?

    Interesting you bolded that comment, Peter. Given the author has just conceded the methodological weakness — terminal, I would suggest — of his own survey, and that he does not tell us what “our question regarding their opinion of the international intervention” actually was, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the results.

  4. Likewise, Rob, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the results of Environics. Went up into the mountains, away from Kabul and did some polling there did they?

    Interesting to note that you avoid the historical “lost cause” argument.

    Prediction: Nato et al will be out of Afghanistan in a year or so.

    Spread the word 🙂

    You are of course entitled to your opinions, but I would have thought that people on the Right these days have good reason to reflect on gross mistakes and stupidity, gross war crimes, gross crimes against humanity that their “examplars” have perpetrated recently. Including your much loved Likudniks. And let’s not forget John Howard and George Bush.

    Why not rename your blog “lost causes”?

  5. Hi Rob,

    I just wanted to respond to your comments about the Environics poll, which has raised concern among people who have worked in Afghanistan.

    If you’re still interested, here are some other 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.

    Best regards,

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

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