Poll Looks At Views Of Young Afghan Men

Robert Siegel interviews Norine MacDonald, president and founder of The International Council on Security and Development, about a new poll of Afghanistan men ages 15 to 30 in various sections of the country. They shared their opinions on Osama bin Laden's death, the Taliban and the international military forces in Afghanistan.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have made good on their promise to ramp up attacks this spring. Yesterday, in a brazen strike in eastern Afghanistan, suicide bombers stormed a government building, killing six people.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There is new research in Afghanistan, conducted the day after Osama Bin Laden was killed, interviews with men aged 15 to 30 were polled in the north and south of country. In short, men of fighting age. And they discovered that in the south, where the Taliban and insurgency is most active, NATO Forces appear to be losing the battle for hearts and minds.

Norine MacDonald conducted this research for the International Council on Security and Development, or ICOS. She lives in Afghanistan, but she joins us today from Paris.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. NORINE MACDONALD (Founder and President, International Council on Security and Development): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: I'd like you to tell us about the views you heard in the south of Afghanistan about NATO and the Taliban.

Ms. MACDONALD: Well, we were just finishing our major research cycle on the day that we heard that bin Laden died. I was in Kandahar that day. And we did send our researchers back out to ask questions about whether this was perceived as good news or bad news. And the fighting-age young men that you referred to, of that group, 68 percent of them said it was good news.

However, in the most contested districts, such as Marjah, 71 percent perceived it to be bad news. So you see that there is a division of opinion on how to look at bin Laden's death.

There's been a lot of military successes in southern Afghanistan. But this number seems to illustrate, as we said, the deterioration of the hearts and minds battle.

SIEGEL: And when you say that the war for hearts and minds of young men in the South, men of fighting age, appears to being lost by NATO, why? If NATO is seen to have the upper hand, what is it about the effort that seems to be losing in its appeal to these people?

Ms. MACDONALD: We would say it's a combination of blowback and push backs. So blowback is, you know, there's obvious negative effects to a military surge happening in your village. And there hasn't been the promised civilian surge. The idea was there was going to be a military surge, which we've seen with great success on the ground, followed by civilian surge of grassroots politics, aid and development - that hasn't showed up.

At the same time, the Taliban have used this as an opportunity to push back on their main propaganda points, quote-unquote, "collateral damage," the killing of Afghan civilians, the destruction of property. And a lot of their propaganda points are linked to legitimate grievances of the local people.

SIEGEL: What did you hear about the idea that the United States might radically reduce its presence in Afghanistan? Would people look upon that favorably or would the U.S. be seen as pulling the rug out from under Afghanistan?

Ms. MACDONALD: This was very popular, and it's for two reasons. One is because they support the transition process that's going through, which has to do with governance and rule of law. And part of it is reflecting on anti-foreigner sentiment, that they would like to see us gone at any cost. So you sort of combine both elements there, but it's generally supported across all the districts where we did the interviewing.

SIEGEL: So bottom line, I mean if people at the Pentagon, you know, if you had their ear for a moment and you are to say here's what I see in this poll, here's what you should see and what you should do, what is it?

Ms. MACDONALD: Well, in fact, we did brief the Pentagon and were grateful for their interests. The military surge showed up. There had been military successes.

The civilian surge did not show up. We are not in the game on the politics, aid, development. We've got no counter - effective counternarcotics policy. So the military either has to pressurize their partners to fill in those gaps or they're going to have to fill it in.

So it'll be interesting to see what happens in the next months, whether we see the military getting more involved in the hearts and minds agendas. Or whether, from the United States point of view, we see the State Department and other actors filling in behind the military surge, as was originally planned.

Norine MacDonald, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. MACDONALD: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Norine MacDonald is president and lead field researcher for the International Council on Security, ICOS. She's based in Afghanistan but spoke with us from Paris.

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