More Afghans than at any time since 2004 feel their country is moving in the wrong direction, a new survey found. Insecurity, graft, a struggling economy and Kabul's ability to tackle key issues top the list of concerns.
The nationwide survey, published by The Asia Foundation on Tuesday, November 17, shows that Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country declined to the lowest point in a decade - after steadily rising through 2014 - with more than half of all interviewed Afghans (57.5 percent) saying the country is moving in the wrong direction - up from 40.4 percent last year.
Conducted between June 11-28, and titled Afghanistan in 2015: A Survey of the Afghan People, the public opinion poll cites deteriorating security, unemployment, and corruption as the main reasons for the increase in pessimism. For instance, the number of Afghans who say they are afraid for their personal safety is at its highest recorded level (67.4 percent) since the survey began eleven years ago.
Foreign support 'needed'
The poll also reveals the growing perception among Afghans that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) need foreign support to operate. Almost 83 percent of Afghans say the Afghan National Army needs international assistance, while 80 percent say they feel the same way about Afghan National Police and 70.4 percent say this about the Afghan Local Police - all up from 2014.
President Ghani's administration is facing a myriad of challenges, including a host of security and economic problems
There are indications that Afghan troops weren't alone in their efforts to recapture the strategically northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban less than two months ago, raising questions as to the degree of foreign support required to make the counter-offensive a success.
The brief fall of Afghanistan's fifth-largest city - which took place a few months after the survey was conducted - was a major setback for the ANSF and the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, as it demonstrated the Taliban's capability to expand their area of operation beyond the east and south of the country. The move also raised questions as to whether government troops can prevent another provincial capital from falling into the hands of the increasingly bold and resilient Islamist movement without foreign military support.
The Asia Foundation found that "Islamic State" (IS), which has claimed a series of deadly attacks in the country, has also had an impact on Afghans' perceptions of their safety, with nearly three out of four respondents saying they have heard of IS and 40.3 percent of all Afghans say the group poses a threat.
Loss in confidence
Optimism seems to have declined immediately following Afghanistan's contentious presidential runoff election. The political crisis over fraud claims dashed the hopes of many for a smooth democratic transition in the conflict-ridden country.
Since September of last year, the country has been ruled by a Ghani-led National Unity Government (NUG), which has faced a myriad of challenges from the outset, including a deteriorating economy in the face of declining international aid and foreign military spending, as well as the full assumption of security responsibilities by Afghan forces amid a resurgent Taliban insurgency.
"Afghanistan experienced the impact of the three simultaneous security, political, and economic transitions in 2015," said Abdullah Ahmadzai, The Asia Foundation's Country Representative in Afghanistan. "Against this intensely challenging backdrop, 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."
As a result, the poll found that Afghans are less confident in their public institutions. For instance, the proportion of those who say the government is doing a good job has fallen to 58 percent, down from 75.3 percent in 2014 when election campaign promises of improvements in governance and services contributed to a sense of hope.
And the proportion of Afghans who say they are satisfied with the democratic process in the country has hit an all-time low, dropping from 73 percent last year to 57 percent.
These numbers are similar to those found in a survey conducted by DW's Dari and Pashto services. According to the poll, 80 percent of participants said they were not satisfied with Kabul's performance, while only a mere 7.5 percent said the opposite. The DW poll also reflected the current mood among the nation's populace, with most people remaining pessimistic about their prospects in the impoverished nation.
Corruption and local services
The Asia Foundation also found that the number of Afghans who say they can impact local government decisions has decreased, from 56 percent in 2014 to 44.5 percent. And despite government efforts to curb corruption, 90 percent of Afghans say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives, the highest percentage reported since 2004.
Although the country has seen progress in the delivery of basic government services, satisfaction with most services has recently dipped, as more than half Afghans cite electricity, roads, drinking water, education, healthcare, and water for irrigation as the most common problems they face not only on a local, but also on a national level.
In terms of the women's role in the country, 2015 saw some 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 also increasingly aware of their rights and know which institutions to contact in a domestic conflict," said The Asia Foundation.
In addition, the survey found that nearly all Afghans (93.6 percent) support women's equal access to education in Islamic madrasas, and a high proportion support equal opportunities at the primary school, high school, and the university levels.
However, the case of Farkhunda, a 27-year-old woman lynched by a mob for allegedly setting a copy of the Koran on fire, 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 percent) and unemployment/lack of job opportunities (11.3 percent) as the two largest problems facing women.
Given that nearly half of Afghans are under the age of 18 - one of the largest youth populations in the world - The Asia Foundation also asked them about their views on the country. Afghans say unemployment (71.4 percent) and illiteracy (26.5 percent) are the two biggest problems facing their youth.
Afghanistan's economy has floundered in the past two years as international investors and aid organizations have drastically scaled back operations following the withdrawal of most international troops.
In fact, in a recently released report, researchers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Council of Swedish Industry (NIR), expressed concerns that the country's private sector will not be able to make up for the loss of international assistance anytime soon - a development that could bolster the insurgency and further dampen democratic prospects.
The lack of employment and prospects is also believed to be driving millions of young Afghans to embark on perilous journeys in search of a better life in places like Europe.
Media as a bright spot
A source of optimism, however, is the country's expanding media sector and increasing availability of sources of information from around the world, which continues to shape public opinion.
Two-thirds of Afghans say media institutions remain the most trusted ones alongside religious leaders (64.3 percent), and ahead of government institutions and NGOs. In 2015, 62.1 percent of Afghan households own a television, a number that has almost doubled in the last eight years.
A majority (82.3 percent) report owning at least one mobile phone in their household, compared to 41.5 percent in 2007; and 21 percent report having someone in their household who has access to the internet, according to the poll.