20 Aug 2021
Afghans in 2019 thought their country was headed in the wrong direction. Only 36 percent thought it was headed in the right direction, compared with 58 percent that thought it was headed in the wrong direction. This is in stark contrast to 2006, when only 21 percent thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Negative assessments have been rising ever since, with a particularly dramatic shift in 2015. That year, Afghans moved from 55 percent viewing the future of their country positively to 37 percent saying the same thing. The corrupt and troubled 2014 presidential election clearly shook Afghans’ belief in the new democracy’s future.
Even this understates the true state of deterioration. Those who created the survey selected villages to visit (Afghans were interviewed in person because so few owned telephones). Each year, the methodologists had to replace some of the initially selected villages because they were inaccessible for one reason or another. The share of villages that pollsters were unable to visit rose from 6.8 percent in 2006 to 32.7 percent in 2019. The biggest reason villages were removed from the survey was “Taliban presence in the village, military operations, or other security issues.” Nearly 70 percent of the villages removed from the 2019 survey were excluded for this reason, up from about 33 percent in 2008.
This matters because Afghanistan remains an overwhelmingly rural country. Most Western reporters operate out of Kabul, which contains more than 4 million residents. But that’s only a bit more than 10 percent of the nation’s 37 million inhabitants. Fully 75 percent of Afghans lived in rural areas in 2019. If interviewers couldn’t get to a third of all villages, it meant they theoretically lacked access to nearly one-quarter of the entire population.
Fourteen percent chose the chador, the outfit that shocked Western sensibilities this week when CNN reporter Clarissa Ward wore it on camera, as the Taliban requires. Given that nearly three-quarters of interviewed Afghans think women should be allowed to appear in public only if they are dressed head to toe in black — a number that excludes Afghans in Taliban-contested villages that presumably hold even more restrictive views — it’s clear the country remains far from conducive to women’s rights.
It is also notable that the survey did not ask a single question about religious belief or practice. That’s a stunning omission, especially considering that the Taliban is motivated by an extreme view of Islam.