In a survey released today by the Human Rights Research & Advocacy Consortium, Afghans surveyed in relatively secure areas are positive about the present (83% feel safer than 3 years ago) and hopeful for the future (78% believe Afghanistan will be more peaceful a year from now). Even in these areas, however, there are strong geographical disparities - Gardez and Kandahar respondents feel 30% less optimistic about Afghanistan's hope for peace in a year's time.
"It is important to recognize this survey was limited to relatively safe areas of Afghanistan. If people in secure areas are still optimistic, it shows the importance of addressing security for ordinary Afghans throughout the country," says Meryem Aslan of Oxfam International.
Most people in secure areas believe there is still a window of opportunity for Afghanistan and have high expectations that the government and international community will take that opportunity. However, their optimism is tempered by fears that peace is only partial or temporary. Without greater attention to security and provision of basic economic and social services, this window may soon close.
"To build on this optimism, we need progress on security, economic and political reform. Without improving security now throughout the country, elections and reconstruction will be compromised. Yet without reconstruction, insecurity will increase," says Razique Samadi of Afghan Development Association.
Speaking Out: Afghan Opinions on Rights and Responsibilities surveyed 1,479 men and women (48% women) in eight different locations from April to June 2003. "We believe this initiative is an important step forward in promoting ordinary Afghan voices in policy discussions and holding policy makers accountable for their responsibilities", says Aminulhaq Mayel of Agency for Rehabilitation and Energy-conservation in Afghanistan.
Top priorities for improving security are disarmament (33%), strengthening an accountable Afghan police and army (23%) and political reform (9%).
There is mixed news about security in the study. The vast majority of people felt secure in their communities (92%) and more secure now than they did three years ago (83%). However, there are still important geographical disparities with only 23% of Gardez respondents and 53% of Kandahar respondents feeling safer than three years ago. Concerns about the rise in crime and the presence of armed groups are also on the rise. As one man in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan province, said "if disarmament is not conducted then there will be no security."
81% expect the government to provide services in the next three years, but group discussions revealed serious concerns about accountability and capacity. While 85% are aware that foreign governments have pledged money, only 54% believe that they will keep those promises.
"People expect the government will provide basic services in the future" says Lisa Laumann, of Save the Children Federation Inc. "but some raised frustrations that they had seen little impact so far". Without tangible reconstruction progress, people feared the country would descend into anarchy again.
87% plan to vote in upcoming elections and 73% believe it will bring positive change. However, in every location, less women were willing to vote. In Gardez, only 27% of women expected to vote.
"People are aware of the planned elections" says Mirwais Wardak of Cooperation for Peace and Unity, "and most plan to vote, although women less so. But people raised serious concerns about whether it would be possible to have ‘free, fair and representative' elections until disarmament has taken place."