Many surveys have asked whether Westerners think NATO should leave Afghanistan—but a new poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org adds a twist: it asks what we think the Afghan people want. The results are revealing.
Overall, 53 per cent of those polled said they believe the Afghan people want NATO forces to leave. But in each of the 20 countries polled by the University of Maryland project, the respondents seemed to project their own views onto the Afghan population. “There is a marked tendency for respondents to assume that Afghans share their view of the conflict,” says Michael Byers, a professor of political science at UBC. “In other words, if you support the NATO mission, you’re much more likely to assume that Afghans want NATO troops in their country.”
Not surprisingly, the belief that most Afghans want NATO forces out was widespread in majority-Muslim countries. In Pakistan, 86 per cent said they think most Afghans want NATO to leave, while 74 per cent of Palestinian respondents and 67 per cent of Egyptian respondents also held that view.
However in the U.S., 56 per cent of respondents felt that Afghans wanted NATO to stay. “The U.S. numbers show strong domestic support for President Obama’s surge,” says Byers. “One can therefore conclude that President Obama is on strong ground domestically with his Afghan strategy, but will have significant problems implementing the strategy on the ground.”
Stephen Saideman, associate political science professor at McGill University, adds that the differing opinions on what Afghans want reflect the mixed messages NATO leaders are relaying back home. “What this really speaks to is how bad of a job most NATO countries have done communicating to their publics the realities of the situation,” he says.