Wednesday, October 24, 2007

They like us. They really like us. (updated; updated again)

I've been meaning to blog about this for a little while now. It's probably going to be a long one, so make yourself some tea.

Canada's mission in Afghanistan is probably the single most contentious political issue in the country right now. We have been debating it ever more hotly as a reconstruction mission turned more and more glaringly into a combat mission in the hottest part of the country, and Canada and the US (and, if I am not mistaken, the Brits) were left to shoulder the burden in violent Kandahar province, while our more timid NATO allies stay more safely in the north of the country, in spite of Canada's pleas for their support in the south.

Well, while we've been debating, someone at leading Canadian pollster, Environics, in partnership with the CBC, noted that "Surprisingly, no Canadian organization has yet to systematically ask the people of Afghanistan about their country and the role we and our allies are playing there". Environics' response was to do a survey of 1,578 adult Afghans (18 years and older) across all 34 of the country's provinces. Females interviewed females, and males males, and the sample was divided 50/50 along gender lines.

Because the majority of Canadian forces are serving in Kandahar province, interviewees in that province were asked additional questions about the Canadians' mission there.

There is a lot of good news. As the CBC notes, "The complete poll results show that the Afghan people are generally supportive of their national government, generally supportive of the role foreign troops are playing and generally optimistic about the future of their country. Nationally, 79 per cent (81 per cent in Kandahar) think things generally are going in the right direction."

Additionally, in Kandahar, 60% of respondents have a "very positive" or "somewhat positive" opinion of Canadian troops, as opposed to 19% with "somewhat negative" or "very negative" opinion. (Unfortunately, of those who did have negative opinions, 45% held them because of Canadians "killing innocent people".)

48% of respondents felt that Canadians were doing a better job than troops from other foreign countries, while 12% thought they were doing worse, and 22% said about the same.

More troubling was the response to the question of whether the use of kidnapping or suicide bombings by forces opposed to the foreign troops was justified.

In the case of kidnapping, 13% nationally responded that they were justified all or some of the time, while 85% said they were justified "only rarely" or "never justified". Similarly, only 12% felt the use of suicide bombers is justified "all of the time" (3%) or "some of the time" (9%); 14% felt they were justified "only rarely"; while 71% felt they were "never justified". Those numbers are probably much better than would be expected by those who see an "islamofacist" under every keffiyeh, but they still indicate troublingly high support for terror tactics.

The most surprising - or should I say astonishing - numbers, as mentioned earlier, are in response to questions about whether Afghanistan is on the right path. "Despite the terrible toll suffered by Afghans for decades," Environics reports, "Afghans are surprisingly upbeat about the direction they see their country moving. A majority (51%) say their country is going in the right direction compared with 28 percent who say it is heading in the wrong direction, although opinion is more divided in Kandahar (48% right direction versus 43% wrong direction). When asked, Afghans say the country is heading in the right direction because they are feeling safer, see reconstruction, disarmament and schools opening for girls." Similarly, 72% of men and 75% of women believe women are better off today than they were 5 years ago, under Taliban rule.

This survey brings up tremendous mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, it makes me extremely happy to hear that we are generally wanted and welcomed in Afghanistan and that we are going enough good there to make the people optimistic about their future. On the other hand, you can slice it six ways to Sunday but we were still sold a reconstruction mission and got home to find our pig in a poke was a combat mission. And nobody has taken the mission back to Parliament yet to let the people have their say on whether we want the damned pig we were sold.

It's enormously frustrating, especially as our NATO allies serve in the relatively safe north of the country (some have only been given permission by their respective national legislatures to serve in the north!) and Canada, like the nice neighbourhood kid who's constantly put upon to babysit for free 'cause he's too nice to say no, gets no respite because someone has to help the Brits and the Yanks keep Kandahar from boiling over.

There have been times when I have said to myself, full of frustration, "It's not our war. We can't save everyone. We've done our share. We need to get out, now."

And yet, when I look at these poll results, I feel like that would be crushing so many peoples' hopes with our heels.

Nothing simple about any of this.

Aw, damn it.

At least it isn't Iraq.

Update: As yesterday's meeting shows, the issue of who is pulling who's weight in Afghanistan is still the most corrosive issue facing NATO, and one which is no closer to finding a satisfactory solution.

Update 2: Unfortunately, opinions among Iraqis are much more pessimistic, as are their feelings about the US forces occupying the country, according to a recent poll (pdf of the full 51-page report).




Anonymous Dann said...

Hey Ronnie,

As you can imagine, I'm just sitting on my fingers and grinding my teeth down to nothing. [grin]

Given that the current 'surge' operations didn't really bear much fruit until late August/early September, I'd suggest that opinions may improve in a few months if current trends continue.


12:32 p.m.  

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