Optimism in Afghanistan grows amid improved peace prospects, security

By Najibullah

Men and young children look on as they sell secondhand clothes along a roadside in Kabul on October 23. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Men and young children look on as they sell secondhand clothes along a roadside in Kabul on October 23. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- Continued improvements in security, the economy and women's rights are bolstering Afghans' optimism about the future of their country, according to a recent survey.

More than 36% of Afghans who participated in a poll conducted by the Asia Foundation said they are confident Afghanistan is headed in the right direction, an increase from 32% in a similar survey last year. About 58% said the country is going in the wrong direction, down from 61.3% in 2018.

The poll is based on interviews of almost 18,000 participants age 18 and older, said Abdullah Ahmadzai, Afghanistan country representative of the Asia Foundation, in Kabul December 3.

About 50% of the survey participants were women, he added.

An Afghan woman buys vegetables in Kabul on December 9. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

An Afghan woman buys vegetables in Kabul on December 9. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

Confidence in security rose to 55.7% from 51.8% in 2018, while 14% of respondents cited improved women's rights, up from 11.7% in 2018, the survey showed.

About 14% of those polled said a better economy spurred their optimism about the future of the country, up from 11.2% a year earlier, while 48.6% cited reconstruction, rebuilding and infrastructure versus 47.9% last year.

War 'imposed upon us'

With about 90% of the survey participants supporting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Afghan citizens and government officials said the potential for ending the war is helping drive optimism.

Respondents in the Asia Foundation survey that cited peace or the end of war for their optimism increased from 16.4% last year to 26.3% this year.

"The four-decade-long war has made our people tired. Afghans are fed up with war," said Wazhma Safi, a representative of Kunar Province in the Wolesi Jirga. "Peace needs to be achieved. Afghans are optimistic because war is not in their favour."

"This isn't even the war of Afghans. It has been imposed upon us," said Safi.

"Our people are really fed up with war," added Safi. "A child who was born at the beginning of the war is now 40."

"Afghans are not like those in the past who would take the weapons and destroy their country," she said. "We hope God guides the few perpetrators who are left so that they can join the peace process and quit their stupid activities."

The Asia Foundation survey reveals that Afghans hate the war, agreed Ahmad Behruz, a political analyst in Kabul.

"We Afghans are tired of war," said Behruz. "Every step we take toward peace, it enlivens our hope for the future."

"We hope that the Taliban stop being stubborn, and that they talk with the Afghan government and society and stop killing their brothers," Behruz added.

"We are hopeful that the peace talks in Qatar resumed thanks to the United States and that Mr. Khalilzad's efforts achieve a positive result," said Mariam Sadaat, 40, who is a teacher at a private school in Kabul, referring to US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

He travelled to Kabul on December 4 for talks on peace with Afghan government officials before heading to Doha for renewed negotiations with the Taliban. US President Donald Trump called off talks with the group in September after an attack that killed 12 people, including an American soldier, in Kabul.

"I hope that the Taliban's leaders stop acting selfishly and stop killing Afghans," said Sadaat. "We spent our youth existing in wartime. They [the Taliban and anti-government elements] can at least allow our children to have a better future."

"The main reason behind public optimism is that peace talks are under way," said Gen. (ret.) Dawlat Waziri, a former military officer. "The people are hopeful that these talks will end up in a result and achieve peace for Afghanistan."

He mentioned the presidential election that took place this year as another reason for Afghans' optimism.

"The enemies of Afghanistan used to say that Afghanistan doesn't have the ability to conduct the election, but Afghanistan was able to undertake the election, which has made the public hopeful," he said.

Improvements of security forces

Improvements in the capabilities of Afghan security forces, which have curbed the ability of the Taliban to continue its violent campaign, is another major reason for an increase in public optimism for the future.

"Fortunately, the abilities of our armed forces have been improving every year, and this year they were able to thwart the enemy's attacks and retake areas from anti-government elements," said Waziri.

"No one can grab power by force and defeat the Afghan government," he said. "Our enemy also realises this as our defense and security forces have been strengthened."

"NATO, the European Union and the United States have declared their continued support to the Afghan armed forces," bolstering the effectiveness of security forces against militants, Waziri added.

Security forces in the country now are in a better position to continue clearing out terrorists, said Safi the lawmaker from Kunar Province.

"The capability of our security forces has improved compared with 10 to 12 years ago. They have achieved the ability to independently conduct operations for which they were dependent on NATO forces in the past," she said.

"Fortunately, our security forces have spoiled the enemy's attacks, and they have even cleared certain areas of the Taliban," Safi added.

Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, also credited improvements in the capacity of Afghan defence and security forces for the country's strengthened security situation.

"You can see the capabilities [of our forces]" in how they "defeat and destroy the enemy and take areas under their control from them", he said.

"Our defence and security forces have enhanced their strength compared to five years ago," said Ahmadzai. "Both our ground and air forces continue to become more professional."

Since the beginning of the government's counter-offensive against the Taliban in the spring, "we have been able to clear 13 districts of the enemy," he added.

"We have deployed defence and security forces in every liberated district. The enemy isn't given a chance to re-emerge."

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I think this year the misfortune has increased compared to the past year and in the past year it was more than the previous year. You know that, people are killed in Kabul and Jalalabad and in other cities in broad daylight. One gets surprised whom to ask about it. Economic development comes in peace. If there is no security, what people would do with the air corridor and with the land corridor. Snatching mobile phones, stealing cars license plates, abduction, beating and killing... are among the usual works that occur in Kabul and Jalalabad. If one goes to police, there is still no hope and if one does not go to them there is still troublesome, so one gets surprised what to do?