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Afghan Survey Reports Dramatic Increase in Security Concerns

A new survey of public opinion in Afghanistan indicates a sharp rise in concern over security. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that a majority of Afghans polled say they oppose the cultivation of opium poppies, but few believe the drug trade is linked to the Taliban insurgency.

When pollsters for the U.S.-based Asia Foundation asked more than 6,000 Afghans in June about the biggest problem facing their country, nearly half, 46 percent, cited the country's deteriorating security, making it the top issue of concern.

Last year, the Asia Foundation says, only 27 percent of Afghans cited insecurity in response to the same question, ranking it roughly equal with concerns over unemployment and the economy.

The past year in Afghanistan has been one of the most violent since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. NATO blames a resurgent Taliban, backed by al-Qaida, and partly funded through the booming opium poppy trade.

NATO commanders estimate that up to 40 percent of the funding for the Taliban-led insurgency comes from poppies, whose opium gum is the raw material of heroin.

The Asia Foundation survey reports that Afghans do not see poppy farming as a major factor in the insurgency. The poll reported that 80 percent of Afghans believe poppy cultivation is wrong, but only 15 percent believe it is linked to the deteriorating security or to terrorism.

Christina Oguz, a representative of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in Kabul, says the impact of the massive opium trade is not fully recognized inside Afghanistan.

"It does have a lot of ramifications for the stability of the country and the stability of the region. That does not necessarily always translate into the same understanding at the farmer's level," she said.

The survey reports that a majority of people who oppose growing poppies do so because they believe it is against Islam, and it corrupts local communities.

But Oguz says that because about 87 percent of poppy growing occurs within just six of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, most Afghans have little direct experience with the product, and may not see it as a major problem for the country.

U.N. and Afghan programs have succeeded in reducing poppy cultivation in northern Afghanistan, but the practice has grown in the south. The United Nations says total opium production in Afghanistan grew by 34 percent last year and now accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's supply of heroin.