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Widening trust deficit; Pessimism grows over security, economy outlook

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By Farhad Naibkhel-KABUL: Afghans are increasingly concerned over the deteriorating law and order situation and weak economy amid the growing insurgency as the Taliban and Islamic State flex muscles, a survey report released on Tuesday said.

The Asia Foundation in its “2015 Survey of the Afghan People” revealed that pessimism over political, security and economy affairs is at high level. The annual Asia Foundation survey covered 9,586 Afghans (50.6 percent male and 49.4 female), representing 14 ethnic groups and all 34 provinces.

The public opinion poll reveals rising concern over political transition, insecurity, and struggling economy this year as compared to last decade surveys.

The Asia Foundation’s Country Director Abdullah Ahmadzai said, “Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country, fear for personal safety, and confidence in government fell to the lowest point in a decade.”

He said that Afghans cited deteriorating security, unemployment, and corruption as the main reasons for their pessimism, adding that Afghanistan experienced the impact of the three simultaneous security, political, and economic transitions in 2015.

More than half of all Afghans (57.5% respondents) say the country is going in the wrong direction.

The 2015 survey reflects Afghans’ understandable concerns, and a frustration that more progress isn’t being made. The results show increased skepticism in the government’s ability to effectively address these challenges.

The number of Afghans who say they are afraid for their personal safety is at the highest recorded level (67.4%) since the survey began. The survey also reveals that the growing perception among Afghans that the Afghan National Security Forces need foreign support to operate—in June 2015, 82.8% of Afghans say the Afghan National Army needs  foreign support; 80.1% say the Afghan National Police needs assistance; and 70.4% say the Afghan Local Police needs foreign support—all up from 2014. ISIL/ISIS has had an impact on Afghans’ perceptions of their safety: nearly three out of four respondents say they have heard of ISIL/ISIS and 40.3% of all Afghans say the group poses a threat.

Public opinion of Afghanistan under the NUG is mixed—the proportion who say the national government is doing a good job has fallen to 57.8%, down from 75.3% in 2014 when election promises of improvements in governance and services contributed to a sense of hope. The proportion of Afghans who say they are satisfied with the democratic process in Afghanistan has also declined, from 73.1% in 2014 to 57.2% in 2015—an all-time low. At a local level, the number of Afghans who say they can impact local government decisions has also decreased, from 55.9% in 2014 to 44.5% in 2015. And despite government efforts to curb corruption, 89.9% of Afghans say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives, the highest percentage reported since 2004.

Long-term survey data since 2004 shows that Afghans have seen progress in the delivery of basic government services. In particular, satisfaction with electricity and drinking water have steadily increased, but satisfaction with most services dipped between 2014 and 2015. 56.3% of Afghans say public services—electricity, roads, drinking water, education, healthcare, and water for irrigation—are the most common problem Afghans face on a local level, and cited as one of the major problems facing the country as a whole.

In 2015, 71.8% of Afghans report the highest level of satisfaction with access to drinking water, a long-term improvement since 2006. Education is absolutely crucial for Afghans—and 67.8% of respondents report satisfaction with the quality of education for children in their area but satisfaction for education has decreased in all regions in 2015 compared to 2014.

Youth cite unemployment and illiteracy as biggest challenges; the increasing availability of media and access to information seen as bright spot.

As foreign aid declines, Afghans say unemployment (71.4%) and illiteracy (26.5%) are the two biggest problems facing their youth.

The 39.9 percent respondents said that if they give opportunity would leave Afghanistan.

Confidence in the Independent Election Commission (IEC) dropped nearly in half over the past year, from 66.4 percent in 2014 to 36.4 percent in 2015.

On the positive side, 2015 saw wins for women in Afghan politics: the cabinet now includes four female ministers and the government appointed two new female provincial governors. Afghan women are increasingly aware of their rights and know which institutions to contact in a domestic conflict. Nearly all Afghans (93.6%) support women’s equal access to education in Islamic madrasas, and a high proportion support equal opportunities at the primary school (84.5%), high school (82.8%) level, and at the university level (73.8%). However, the Farkhunda case and the recent insurgent attacks against educated and politically active women in Kunduz illustrate the serious challenges Afghan women face. As in previous years, Afghans list education and illiteracy (20.4%) and unemployment/lack of job opportunities (11.3%) as the two largest problems facing women.

More than 75,000 Afghans have been polled since 2004 through annual survey, and all data is public. The 2015 findings are particularly useful for Afghans and the international community given the country’s rapidly evolving environment.