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Survey: Afghans Concerned About Jobs and Security as Troop Departure Looms

An Afghan man prepares food at his roadside restaurant in Kabul on Wednesday. Photo by Adnan Abidi/Reuters.

As the U.S. prepares to exit Afghanistan, insecurity is the problem that Afghans fear most. A new survey of Afghan opinion conducted by the Asia Foundation and released Wednesday also found that Afghans are concerned about corruption in their government and the availability of jobs.

“We’ve created a war and aid economic bubble” in which security sector work and reconstruction and development jobs are plentiful for now, said Andrew Wilder, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

But once most U.S. and other foreign troops pull out as planned in 2014, many of those jobs will disappear. “We’ll see a sharp reduction in foreign aid as troops decrease, so we’ll see a drop in those sectors as well,” said Wilder. The jobs tend to be in urban areas and higher-paying than other work in Afghanistan. “If I were an Afghan, I’d be concerned about jobs moving forward,” he said.

Afghans in the survey cited insecurity (28 percent), unemployment (27 percent) and corruption (25 percent) as the largest problems in their country as a whole. When asked about the biggest problems on the local level, unemployment took the lead (29 percent).

The departure of foreign security forces also might be contributing to the continued worry over security, Wilder said. The poll gauged Afghans’ concerns but didn’t include reasons behind them.

Interviewers surveyed nearly 6,300 Afghans in all 34 provinces in June, but they were unable to get to the most insecure parts of the country, said Mark Kryzer, the Asia Foundation’s Afghanistan country director.

Overall, 52 percent of Afghans polled said they thought the country was headed in the right direction — the highest percentage since 2006.

The reasons they gave as positive developments included improvements in security (41 percent), reconstruction and rebuilding (35 percent) and the opening of schools for girls (14 percent).

Respondents also cited education as one of the central government’s main achievements, and 87 percent of those surveyed said they either strongly or partly agreed that women should have equal opportunities to men in education, compared to 12 percent who disagreed.

“People put a lot of stock in education,” said Kryzer. “They feel like it’s important and the government is doing a good job with it.”

With that kind of support, if the Taliban were to come back to power, it’d be very difficult for them to impose a ban on girls attending school as was the case 10 years ago, said Wilder. Even back then, it was a controversial matter within the Taliban, he said, with some members only enforcing a ban because the leadership wanted it.

As for how Afghans view armed anti-government groups, the survey found 63 percent had no sympathy for them at all, pointing to the killing of innocent people. Of the 30 percent who said they were sympathetic, most cited the fighters as being Afghan and Muslim for the basis of their support.

Read the full 2012 survey (PDF file).

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