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      Afghan Majority Favors Negotiations with Taliban

      According to a new poll, most Afghans believe security has improved in Helmand Province but support for the US troop surge has declined. The Taliban remain unpopular, but 77 percent of Afghans want to negotiate with and include them in a new government. More than half say the US and NATO should begin leaving Afghanistan by July 2011 or earlier.

      The most powerful message contained in the numbers is that the US perception that Afghans fear a “Taliban takeover” is false. The numbers – 9 percent support for the Taliban, 77 percent in favor of negotiating with the Taliban, 67 percent supporting a role for the Taliban in government – strongly suggest that the public believes in the possibility of all-party talks and a brokered power-sharing arrangement. 

      The results are from polling done by the Washington Post, ABC, BBC, and Germany’s ARD, released this week.

      The poll shows that 67 percent of Helmand Province residents view their security as “good”, up from 14 percent at a similar time last year, a positive result for the military surge strategy of the White House and Gen. Petraeus. But 79 percent of the same residents want the US to beginning withdrawing next summer or even sooner, a strong rejection of Western occupation.

      Only 9 percent view the Taliban positively, with the strongest support in Pashtun regions. But 77 percent support negotiations and two-thirds favor inclusion of the Taliban in a restructured government.

      Last year 61 percent of Afghans polled were in favor of the US surge which deployed an additional 100,000 troops, but the new poll shows that support dropping to 49 percent.

      Asked to rate the work of the US in their country, only 32 percent answered either excellent or good against 66 percent who said either fair or poor. The poll numbers for NATO were about the same, while the rating for President Hamid Karzai was 62-37.

      On women’s rights, overwhelming majorities favored voting rights (87%), education (87%), and holding jobs outside the home (69%). But fifty percent oppose a woman going outside their home without a male relative. As to whether women should decide whether to wear a burka, 54% believed the father or husband should decide as opposed to 44% favoring the woman.  There was a 13 percent increase over last year in the number believing women’s rights are worsening.

      The poll demonstrates support for the Obama policy of phasing out US troops beginning next July or sooner. There were no questions in the poll, however, regarding a timeline for withdrawal or whether to maintain residual forces in the future. But the survey shows a much greater urgency in pursuing peace negotiations than the US has yet exhibited.

      Overall, the poll also shows an enduring fissure between the forty percent Pashtun population in southern Afghanistan and the tribes which composed the Northern Alliance when the US intervened in the country’s civil war a decade ago.

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