Many respondents said that despite the hardships, everyday life had improved
By Jill McGivering
People in Afghanistan have far less confidence in the direction their country is taking than four years ago, a new BBC/ABC opinion poll suggests.
The approval rating for the central government in Kabul is still high - but is steadily falling.
Support for the presence of foreign troops is also strong but declining, compared with previous polls.
But the public is still very much opposed to the Taleban, seeing them as the country's biggest threat.
Most do not want to see the militants return.
This snapshot of national opinion took answers from more than 1,500 people. The sample was divided equally between men and women and taken from all of the country's 34 provinces.
Continuing violence in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan limited the sample size there and views there seemed different.
There was generally less satisfaction with infrastructure and more concern about increasing Taleban influence in Helmand.
This is the fourth such poll carried out since 2005 and jointly commissioned by the BBC, ABC News of America and ARD of Germany.
It paints a bleak picture, suggesting that public patience is wearing thin and expectations are falling.
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, still has a high approval rating. Most people questioned rated his work as good or excellent.
But satisfaction with his performance has fallen steadily in the last few years and the number of people who rate his work as poor is increasing.
When people were asked what poses the biggest danger to the country, most said the Taleban.
That has not changed in recent years - although the focus on the Taleban is slowly increasing and fewer people now see drug traffickers as the biggest threat.
There are some positives. Many people said everyday life had improved. Sixty-five per cent said the availability of clean water was somewhat good or very good, compared with 58% in 2005. Access to a supply of electricity has also increased slightly.
But when asked to assess their living conditions overall, satisfaction has declined. Now 62% say they are somewhat good or very good (compared with 83% in 2005) - but 38% say they are somewhat bad or very bad (compared with 16% in 2005).
And despite the billions of dollars which have been spent in aid, many people say they personally have not felt any direct benefit: Thirty per cent say they have benefited but 67% say they have not.
People were also questioned about the use of air strikes by US and other foreign troops. Was this acceptable, they were asked, because it helps to defeat the Taleban and other anti-government fighters - or unacceptable because it endangers too many innocent civilians?
Sixteen per cent said acceptable but 77% said unacceptable.
Among other key findings:
- 59% think the government is making some or a lot of progress in providing a better life
- 48% think the government is doing a good or excellent job, down from 59% last year and 80% in 2005
- 52% think President Karzai is doing a good or excellent job as against 63% last time and 83% in 2005.
- 63% support the presence of US forces - down from 71% in 2007 and 78% in 2006
HAVE YOUR SAY
In 5 to 10 years the international forces will be gone and Afghanistan will remain a failed state.
In assessing the results, David Cowling, the BBC's editor of political research, said people certainly seem to have lower expectations than four years ago and feel a lot of the changes they had hoped for have not materialised.
"They are trapped," he said. "They feel less certain about the way ahead. But they're absolutely clear the one path they don't want to return to is the Taleban."
The Afghan Centre for Social and Opinion Research in Kabul carried out the fieldwork, via face-to-face interviews with 1,534 Afghans in all of the country's 34 provinces between December 30 2008 and January 12 2009. The poll was commissioned by the BBC, ABC News of America and ARD of Germany.