Largely encouraging poll out of Afghanistan

LARGELY ENCOURAGING POLL OUT OF AFGHANISTAN…. Conditions in Afghanistan have not exactly improved of late, but a newly-released national poll offers at least some reasons to feel encouraged.

Hopes for a brighter future have soared in Afghanistan, bolstered by a broad rally in support for the country’s re-elected president, improved development efforts and economic gains. Blame on the United States and NATO for violence has eased — but their overall ratings remain weak.

In one key shift, the latest poll by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV finds that sharply more Afghans now see the Taliban as the main source of their country’s strife, while many fewer blame the United States or its allies — significant progress in a central aim of the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Another, basic change is larger still: After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.

Of particular interest, while there are key regional differences, about seven in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S. troops in their country, and more than six in 10 back the Obama administration’s planned escalation. While there are still widespread criticisms of the United States and NATO’s performance in the country, support for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces has seen a sharp decline.

Only about one in 10 Afghans support the Taliban, and the vast majority of the country holds them responsible for national strife and instability. Despite widespread concerns about corruption in Kabul, 90% prefer the Karzai government to the Taliban — a number that’s grown of late.

On the other hand, in a result that should stand out among U.S. policymakers, the number of Afghans who believe allied forces are doing worse in avoiding civilian casualties has gone up considerably.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal noted the importance of public opinion in Afghanistan in an interview over the weekend, telling ABC News, “I believe that we are on the way to convincing the Afghan people that we are here to protect them.” Failure, he added, “would be a belief that the Afghan people have lost faith that the future can be better and that we can help them get there. If they were to reach to that point, then I think that I would sense that this would not be possible. I don’t feel that now.”

More results from the poll are available here (pdf).