Afghans Want Negotiations With Taliban, Study Reveals

A recent public opinion poll in Afghanistan points to public support for the Afghan government to address the security situation in the war-torn country through negotiation and reconciliation with insurgent groups.

The annual, Survey of the Afghan People, released by The Asia Foundation is a comprehensive pubic opinion poll in which people representative of the Afghan population are asked to respond to questions regarding national mood, governance, security and development.

In the survey, 82 percent of respondents expressed their belief that Afghanistan’s security situation should be dealt with through negotiations and reconciliation with armed opposition groups such as the Taliban.

Support for such efforts is highest in the eastern region of Afghanistan, but in all parts of the mountainous country support for reconciliation efforts are more than 80 percent.

However, notably, more men are supportive of negotiations than women.

Women stand to lose access to rights if a political solution to the Afghan conflict is reached with insurgent groups who notoriously target women and girls that are actively engaging in Afghan society, either politically, economically, or socially.

Furthermore, the ethnic minority Hazara, who have been targets of Taliban abuse, also expressed less support for reconciling with militant groups.

V. Bruce J. Tolentino, the Afghan country representative to The Asia Foundation, argues that the survey is critical as it includes pertinent information for Afghan delegates as to how the populace feels about some of the country’s most persistent concerns.

A critical element from this year’s report is the fact that fear is a rising sentiment among the Afghan population.

Among those polled, most consider the biggest national problem to be insecurity. More than half of respondents, 56 percent, said that they fear for their personal safety.

The public opinion survey was released on the same week that Afghan politicians and tribal leaders are meeting for the loya jirga, or grand assembly.

The loya jirga is an assembly that holds sessions for several days where political and tribal leaders deliberate on Afghanistan’s most pressing issues.

This year, the four-day assembly is set to focus on the kind of relationship Afghanistan seeks to have with the United States, as well as mechanisms for moving forward on peace discussions with the Taliban, which have been largely disrupted in recent months.

At the first day of the assembly Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for restrictions to be placed on foreign troops, particularly with regards to night raids.

Night raids are highly contentious in the predominantly Pashtun society because ancient tribal codes relegate that every adult male carry a weapon in his home and defend his family and friends against armed intruders.

Interestingly, in the annual survey report, the most common response by the Afghan public for why opposition groups continue to fight the Afghan government is the “presence of foreign troops/international community.”

In his loya jirga speech on Wednesday, Karzai echoed these sentiments. Karzai compared the Afghan people to lions, suggesting that although America is powerful, lions do not like strangers in their home.

“We want our sovereignty from today. Our relations should be between two independent countries,” Karzai said.

Nevertheless, Karzai also expressed that it is in his country's interests to maintain good relations with NATO and the United States.

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