A new poll of nearly 1,600 Afghans shows the majority feel safer than they did five years ago, and approve of the direction their country is taking, thanks to the presence of international security forces from countries such as Canada.
Results from the Environics Research poll, conducted in partnership with the CBC, show 60 per cent of Afghans surveyed believe the presence of foreign troops has been good for their country.
As well, 51 per cent said they feel their country is headed in the right direction, compared to 28 per cent who responded that it's headed in the wrong direction. The remaining interviewees saw no change or didn't know.
Most Afghans said they believe their lives are better than they were five years ago, citing increased security, as well as better roads and schools because of reconstruction efforts. Those who feel they are worse off say they don't feel safe in the face of continuing violence.
"There's no consensus. It's not everyone [who] has a positive view," said Keith Neuman of Environics. "But more often than not, people feel that things are better than they were."
I don't know a lot about Afghanistan, but I've had a few Afghan friends, and I read an incredible little book called The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. The author walks across Afghanistan, alone or accompanied by a dog he befriends along the way. He brings only what he can carry, travels only on foot, and relies on the kindness and hospitality of strangers to house, feed and protect him.
From both my friends and this book, I have the distinct impression that no western-based poll of Afghanistan could possibly represent anything meaningful. People live mostly in remote regions, disconnected from any form of central government or national identity. In some areas, women are not seen at all. In others, there is great equality. Literacy is rare. Voting, rarer.
If the figures in the poll are true, and accurately represent the opinions of Afghans, what are those opinions based on? Why do people in Kandahar "have a somewhat or very positive attitude toward Canada's soldiers"? Because Canadian forces are keeping them safe? Because Canadians are not blowing them up and torturing them like US troops are doing in Iraqis? Or because they met a nice Canadian soldier and he did them no harm, so why not?
I have many questions about a poll like this, and I'm inclined to not believe its results. However, there's one much more important question.
Why should a poll taken in Afghanistan have any effect on Canada's foreign policy??
Since when does a country determine policy based on a poll taken in a foreign country?
How about the CBC does a poll in the US: Should Canada send troops to Iraq? Let's ask Americans! Can you imagine Canadians' reaction?
I generally like CBC, but when it comes to the "mission" (that is, war) in Afghanistan, it demeans itself by playing cheerleader. Usually they're kissing Rick Hillier's ass or asking individual soldiers whether they support the mission - as if that matters! But this poll of Afghans is really over the top.
A reminder: October 27, a pan-Canadian demonstration: troops out of Afghanistan, troops out of Iraq.