Afghans are more hopeful for the future than you might think

Afghans are slightly more optimistic about the future than they were last year, despite a stagnant economy and near-constant attacks by a revitalized Taliban, according to the results of a nationwide poll released Nov. 14.

The annual survey by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, released in Kabul, found that 32.8 percent of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction, up from 29.3 percent in 2016. Another 61.2 percent said the country is heading in the wrong direction, down from 65.9 percent — a record high — in 2016.

The foundation acknowledged that the slight increase in optimism is “difficult to explain.”

The country has been mired in war since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. The Taliban have regrouped and driven the Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces from a number of districts across the country. An upstart Islamic State group affiliate has meanwhile carried out several attacks targeting civilians.

Members of the Afghan National Army salute in their newly acquired uniforms. Image from SIGAR.

Members of the Afghan National Army salute in their newly acquired uniforms. (Image from SIGAR.)

The foundation polled 10,012 Afghan men and women in face-to-face interviews conducted between July 5 and July 23 in all 34 provinces. The poll has a 1.4 percent margin of error.

Also read: This is the sad story behind the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan

“The main finding for this year’s survey, if you look at overall the public perception, it is starting to stabilize in term of how people view the future of Afghanistan and public optimism is increasing in a variety of areas although there are issues around people’s desire to leave the country and live abroad if provided with an opportunity,” Abdullah Ahmadzai, country representative for The Asia Foundation said after announcing the study in Kabul.

The findings marked the reversal of a decade-long downward trajectory, the foundation said. However, most respondents expressed concern about the security and future of the country, and 38.8 percent said they would leave Afghanistan if they had the opportunity, the second-highest number recorded since the survey began in 2004.

“So overall 2017 compared to 2016 shows a trend that is more positive and optimistic compared to last year, where we had the public pessimism at its highest and public optimism at its lowest levels,” Ahmadzai said.

Reactions to the survey from residents in the capital differed. While some didn’t agree with the results, university student Mir Hussain said it makes sense to him that most Afghans are hopeful for the future.

Afghan National Army soldiers with 2nd Kandak, 4th Brigade, 215th Corps chant their unit’s battle song during a graduation ceremony at Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan, July 24, 2017. Hundreds of soldiers completed an operational readiness cycle at the Helmand Province Regional Military Training Center, an eight-week course designed to enhance its students’ infantry and warfighting capabilities. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins)

“If we think that our country is not moving forward it is not going to help us, we are not willing to move backward,” he said. “We are optimistic and our country has to move forward.”

Ahmadzai said there are specific reasons why some Afghans are not hopeful for the future.

“When it comes to public pessimism in terms of where they see the country is heading, the main issues are around security, unemployment, or the economic situation and the fact that the unemployment rate is reported to be quite high in the reporting year.”

Ahmadzai said confidence in public institutions has slightly improved, though nearly all Afghans say the country’s rampant corruption affects their lives, consistent with last year’s findings.

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