Afghanistan Poll


[Noam hosts a forum in the Z Sustainer chat board, where the following exchange took place.]

Sustianer: Hi Dr. Chomsky,

I have just finished reading an article in the Globe and Mail which is reporting that a strong majority of Afghan people want NATO to stay in the country. Have you seen this poll? It was conducted by Environics Research if that helps at all. In any event I was wondering what you thought of it? It has definitely thrown my views on the campaign in to doubt. Can’t help but find it very surprising.


Noam Chomsky: There are also a few other results, e.g.:  Take Kandahar, where Canadian troops are located, so the Canadian polling organization chose to over-represent it in the poll, along with Kabul, artificially rich because of the international presence.  In Kandahar, 2/3 believe that the Taliban would not return if foreign troops pulled out  —  hence if they want a foreign troop presence, it’s for reconstruction and aid, not war, so it would seem.  85 per cent believe the government should negotiate with the Taliban — and therefore strongly disagree with the Kabul government as well as Canada and the rest of NATO, and evidently think that peace is possible.  72 per cent believe a coalition government with the Taliban would be acceptable — same comment.  1/3 believe suicide bombing is sometimes justified — which suggests, though the question didn’t seem to be asked, that a substantial number favor resistance of some less dramatic form to foreign troops and the government they instituted.

The conclusion from the specially selected and over-represented Kandahar region seems to be that the majority would like a peaceful settlement and believe it to be possible, and would like a foreign presence, probably for aid and reconstruction.  That’s informative, and it is too bad that the matter was not explored further in the poll.
Some side comments:
Many questions arise.  E.g., how do you take a poll visiting families in Helmand province or other regions largely run by the Taliban?  Or warlords?  Nevertheless, I agree with you that we should take it seriously, particularly because the results are fairly similar to other Western-run polls done earlier, untainted by the fact that they were undertaken as part of the Canadian effort to justify to the population Canada’s continued participation in the occupation.
Similarly, we should have taken seriously a poll, had there been one, when the Russians were occupying Afghanistan.  In Kabul at least, it’s quite likely that the results would have been quite similar to this one, maybe even more supportive of the Russian presence, which — to judge by the reports of respect international officials working there, whose reports were barred from the US media — there was substantial support for Russian actions to defend women’s rights, develop educational opportunities, etc., and not much admiration for Reagan’s favorites, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose terrorist forces got their kicks out of throwing acid in the faces of women who they regarded as too liberated under Russian rule.  And we know what Reagan’s "freedom fighters" did to Afghanistan after the Russians did withdraw.
There isn’t much information, to my knowledge, about the Afghan opinion generally under Russian rule, but there’s no doubt that there was enormous opposition at least in rural areas.  But let’s say a Russian poll, using the same methodology, would have found similar results.  How should we have reacted?  There’s a very general observation about polls taken under military rule, foreign or domestic.  Or under other forms of coercive authority.  If such a poll shows public opposition to the authorities, then it’s credible, because that takes real courage and willingess to face risks.  There are such cases: East Timor in August 1999 is one of the most spectacular examples, and there are others.  If the poll shows support for the authorities, its credibility is much lower, for obvious reasons, familiar to anyone who has dealt with people under duress.  I’ve written about it from personal experience with refugees in Laos, and others with far more experience have done so as well.  So if a Russian poll had indicated support (outside of Kabul, where it might be expected), one would not disregard it, but would treat it with caution.
In this case, my personal feeling is that the results are generally credible, but I suspect that if the inquiry were pursued further, it would show what the results in Canadian-occupied Kandahar appear to indicate.

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