Published August 20, 2021
Critics of President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan often paint a rosy picture of the country, arguing that with the help of the United States, the Afghan government had reached a stable stalemate with the Taliban and made great advancements for women’s rights. Afghans themselves would probably say otherwise.
It’s difficult to think differently after reviewing a 2019 survey of Afghan public opinion sponsored by the Asia Foundation, the latest in a 15-year series of polls. The foundation had polled thousands of Afghans each year since 2004asking their opinions on a host of matters, including security and their views toward women. The 2019 poll, taken after news of peace talks with the Taliban had been mentioned but before any deals had been struck, provides an excellent snapshot into the facts on the ground in that nation.
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.
Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, studies and provides commentary on American politics. His work focuses on how America’s political order is being upended by populist challenges, from the left and the right. He also studies populism’s impact in other democracies in the developed world.