Foreign Policy Blogs

What the World Thinks of the NATO/US in Afghanistan

Excuse me World, how are you feeling about the NATO presence in Afghanistan?  What are your thoughts about a possible return to rule by the Taliban?

While asked the world, well almost 65% of it (actually just a few thousand scattered people), to share their thoughts on such questions in a recent survey last April and the results are both interesting and discouraging (check the PDF, not just the intro article).  The questions centered on what citizens from various countries (US, Mexico, Kenya, Russia, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Egypt, etc.) thought about the US/NATO presence in Afghanistan, basically did they approve of it or not.

The first question asked simply ‘do you approve/disapprove’ of the UN-backed resolution that allows NATO’s effort in Afghanistan was a straight dead heat, 44% approving, 45% disapproving.  The US, France, UK, India, Taiwan, Nigeria, etc. were in favor of the mission and Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Mexico, Turkey, China, etc. disapproving.  The 2nd question was similar, asking whether or not one thought the NATO mission should be continued, but had a more one-sided result.  50% stated that the mission should be ended, while only 37% argued that it should continue.  While only India, US, and Kenya showed over 60% support for continuing the effort, only 13-14% of polled Pakistanis, Chinese, and Russians agreed.  Germany, a NATO member with troops in Afghanistan, had a 52% rate supporting withdrawal, a bad sign.

The next question asks the polled to put themselves into the Afghanis postion, and asking them what they believe the Afghan people want, for the NATO troops to stay or go home.  This brought similar results as the last question, 53% believing that the Afghanis want NATO out and only 30% stating that they believe the locals want them to stay.  Notably, only 9% of Pakistanis polled thought Afghanis wanted NATO to stay, this of course coincides with their own position on the issue.  Judging by rhetoric coming from President Karzai during the last year and from Presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah’s recent speeches, Afghanis are definitely tiring of the foreign presence on their soil, but just last January a majority polled that they want the US/NATO to stay.

The last question and its results was the most disturbing for me:  ‘If the Taliban were to regain power in Afghanistan do you think this would be very good, somewhat
good, somewhat bad or very bad?’  21% of those polled thought the return of the Taliban to power was either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ good.  I know there are geopolitical reasons (Pakistan) and ideological (Egypt) for some to desire a return of the Taliban, but this is still an appalling large number to me.  The Taliban were one of the most brutal authoritarian governments that ever existed and they sheltered internationally dangerous criminals, their return to power is unacceptable.  4% of Americans thought the return of the Taliban to be ‘somewhat good’, who are these people?

An interesting trend could also be seen in the poll’s results, though most Muslim-dominated countries (besides Azerbaijan) were siding against NATO/US policies or presence in Afghanistan, Iraq was for the most part, on the side of NATO/US.  For a country that seems more than tired with a US presence of their own, 43%, compared to 35% against, favored a US/NATO presence in Afghanistan.  The US may have a strategic ally in the heart of the Middle East afterall.

Polls like these are always deeply flawed and must be taken with about a dozen or so caveats, but nevertheless they do provide a small picture of how the world sees the Afghanistan conflict and the presence of the US/NATO in the country.