STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Afghans Seek More Gov Protection
By Staff News & Analysis - March 18, 2010

Despite Pakistan's major military offensives against the Taliban last year, Gallup surveys show Pakistanis' evaluations of their government's efforts to fight terrorism didn't improve – or change much at all – in 2009 … In neighboring Afghanistan, where residents also live under the daily threat of terrorism, the view was much the same. Even with an infusion of troops ahead of the August election, Afghans' grades for their government's efforts to combat terrorism did not change. Half (50%) of Afghans surveyed in September and October said their government isn't doing enough – essentially unchanged from the 46% who said this in June. Like Pakistanis, Afghans leaned slightly more toward saying the government is not doing enough. – Gallup

Dominant Social Theme: More progress: Gallup takes the pulse of Afghanistan …

Free-Market Analysis: We had to read this twice, because we didn't believe it. Gallup in Afghanistan! And taking the pulse of the Afghan people with a fairly low level marginal sampling error – a statistical variance, in fact, that seems no more than what is achievable in the West. Will wonders never cease?

For us, this was especially miraculous because we have read how villagers in Afghanistan distrust foreigners so much that it is sometimes a year or more before Westerners realize that the village elder they are speaking to is actually one of the farm help. It can take several years of regular contact, in fact, before the roles are fairly sorted out and trust is established. Yet Gallup has somehow managed to pierce the veil of tribal resistance to all things non-Afghanistan with a thoroughness that is seemingly breathtaking.

And yet we wonder … Did this poll take into account the varying points of view between the 40 million Pashtuns that are fighting against the West's occupation and other Afghan ethnicities that might welcome a Western presence aimed at old enemies? And then there is the issue of "terrorism" itself …

As we understand it, the Taliban – the group that would be seen as the main source of terrorism – is largely a Pashtun entity, one that draws its strength from Pashtun communities. We guess this might be like asking Southerners during the American Civil War whether or not the North was doing enough to keep them safe from the gray-clad "terrorists" that happened in many cases to be their sons and brothers. It doesn't make a lot of sense to us. But then we're not Gallup.

Gallup does seem a touch defensive about its conclusions and devotes a large part of this article, excerpted above, to describing its methodologies. We're glad they were described because we were already wondering how many Afghans had phones and when Gallup called them. Apparently, Gallup figured out that a phone poll would not work too well, so it took a different tack. Here's how Gallup describes its polling practices:

Survey Methods … Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Sept. 20 to Oct. 12, 2009, and 1,000 adults in June 4-16, 2009, in Afghanistan. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Seventeen provinces were randomly chosen from 34 provinces and the sample was adjusted to reflect the population in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity, and rural and urban population. Sample sizes and margins of error for each region were the same in both survey administrations. … The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Well, there you have it folks. Gallup didn't bother with phones. It hauled people off the street (or out of the poppy fields) and sat them down somewhere and talked to them. We still have questions, though. How did Gallup identify whether or not its questioners were talking to the Taliban – as there are no specific identifiers as to who are Taliban and who are Pashtun. Also, was there possibly an intimidation factor? Who aided Gallup's penetration into these areas of Afghanistan?

Some more queries: Was it possible that Gallup was seen in some sense as an Afghan government entity? And if so, wouldn't those being questioned be apt to answer in the affirmative when asked whether they wanted the government to do more in terms of security? To answer otherwise might have seemed impolite (no to mention dangerous) and the Afghans on the whole are said to be a very polite people.

Anyway, our collective hats are off to Gallup. In the middle of a shooting war with suicide bombers blowing themselves up, the CIA assassinating people and civilians dying by the busload, Gallup has injected a note of normalcy into what otherwise might be considered a crazy and dangerous region. Gallup has come up with the statistical goods, and with an acceptable and fairly low margin of error.

After Thoughts

That Gallup could send its researchers out into the poppy fields, and booby-trapped redoubts (filled with grim-faced, retreating Taliban) to bring us these answers makes us realize how close to normal Afghanistan is truly becoming. With a duly elected government, a growing police force, a volunteer army on the move, Afghanistan is apparently entering the 21st century. Gallup has now arrived and perhaps there will soon be consideration of a Western-style central bank and a progressive tax scheme. Gallup could poll the average Afghan on these issues as well.

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