ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
A new survey has determined that approximately 66 percent of Afghans believe their country is moving in the wrong direction, showing the lowest level of optimism in more than a decade.
“The national mood in Afghanistan is at a record low, and Afghans are pessimistic because of insecurity, corruption, and rising unemployment and slow job growth,” according to the annual survey by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation released Wednesday.
Why are they pessimistic?
It says that a lack of progress in starting peace talks with the Taliban, new battlefield incursions by the Islamist insurgency and record civilian casualties in 2016 have contributed to “a low sense of optimism.”
A marked rise in civilian casualties and worsening violence has contributed to the highest recorded level of fear in over a decade, according to the survey, painting a grim picture particularly in the largest southern province of Helmand and surrounding regions, traditional Taliban heartlands.
The survey pointed out “In Helmand, where insurgent attacks have intensified and the Taliban now hold control over most of the province, 92.3% [people] say they are afraid sometimes, often or always, a 7 percent increase since 2015 and a 25 percent increase since 2014.”
An Afghan man looks at the dead body of a victim of suicide attack in Lashkar Gah the capital of southern Helmand province, Oct. 10, 2016.
Taliban more active
The Taliban has stepped up attacks and made territorial gains across Afghanistan since the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of 2014.
The government is in control of roughly two-thirds of the Afghan territory while the Taliban holds less than 10 percent and the balance is contested, Commander of the U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan, General Johan Nicholson, revealed last week.
Loyalists of the Middle East-based Islamic State terrorist group have also emerged on the Afghan scene since early 2015, adding to security challenges facing President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government.
Less worried about IS
However, the survey determined the perception that IS is a threat to national security has decreased, from 54.2 percent in 2015 to 47.9 percent this year.
“For the moment, a sense of personal safety and empowerment remains elusive,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, the Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan, though he noted the country is emerging from decades of war and conflict.
An Afghan money changer, second from right, counts a pile of Pakistani currency banknotes at a money exchange market in Kabul, Dec. 5, 2016.
Internal political rivalries plaguing the Ghani government have also worried Afghans and the country’s international backers, led by the United States.
“The findings this year illustrate Afghans’ dissatisfaction with their government, job growth, and household finances... Confidence in public institutions and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) is at an historical low,” according to the survey.