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Inside Afghanistan: Stability in Institutions Remains Elusive

Inside Afghanistan: Stability in Institutions Remains Elusive

by Zach Bikus

Story Highlights

  • Confidence in national government is rising but remains low at 36%
  • Confidence in the military has dropped 27 points in 2 years
  • Just 29% are satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ahead of the announcement this week of an agreement "in principle" between the U.S. and the Taliban, Afghans remained pessimistic toward the institutions running their nation, as well as the infrastructure supporting them. While already among the lowest in the world, confidence in many key institutions fell even lower in 2018.

Quick Summary: With just three weeks until nationwide presidential elections, Afghans go to the polls dubious of the capabilities of several key government bodies. The results of the election on Sept. 28, which has been twice delayed since the original date of April 20, will force the newly elected president to restore Afghans' decaying trust in many of their national institutions.

Honesty of Elections Rises but Remains Worst in the Region: Ahead of their much-delayed parliamentary elections in 2018, just one in five Afghans (19%) said they have confidence in the honesty of elections in their country; the lowest in South Asia. While this reflects a nearly 10 percentage point improvement from the previous year, it highlights a decline from 2009, when a third of the population (34%) expressed confidence in the electoral process. With technical issues affecting previous polls and contributing to delays in elections, trust has dwindled over the past decade.

Line graph. Afghans’ confidence in the honesty of elections over the past decade.

However, despite those anemic numbers, Afghans are not completely without hope. Their confidence in their national government also ticked upward to 36% over the same time period. And they have even more faith in incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who saw his approval ratings rise from 30% in 2015 to 54% last year. This bodes well for Ghani as he stands for re-election where he is currently favored to win against a broad field of 16 candidates, including Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up in the 2014 presidential election.

Trust in Military Tumbles: As violence soars across the country with the spread of Taliban-led insurgency, Afghans are becoming increasingly skeptical of the security apparatus within the nation. Following an initial rise over the past decade -- four in five Afghans expressed confidence in their military in 2013 -- support has plummeted, falling 27 percentage points in two years to just 49% in 2018.

This decline is even more stark given Afghanistan's position in South Asia, the region with the highest overall military confidence rating in the world. This discrepancy is most notably seen against neighboring Pakistan, whose citizens are among the most confident in their military in the world at 96% in 2018. This discrepancy in public support for the military comes as frequent and persistent border skirmishes between the two nations further aggravate growing violence in the country.

Line graph. Trends in confidence in the military in Afghanistan and South Asia in the past decade.

Satisfaction With Basic Services Continues to Decline: Apart from national institutions, the Afghan public lacks faith in basic services at the local level. More concerning, many key measures of institutional support have fallen in recent years, ranking Afghanistan as the nation with the lowest satisfaction on these measures in South Asia.

Among the most precipitous declines is in satisfaction with the educational systems and the availability of healthcare, both of which have seen double-digit declines since 2016. While the percentage of Afghans who are satisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing rose by 11 percentage points over the two years between 2016 and 2018, this actually represents a decline from the 64% measured in 2017.

Local Services Remain Under Pressure
% Satisfied
2016 2018 Change
% % % +/-
The quality of water 70 55 -15
The educational systems or the schools 63 49 -14
The availability of quality healthcare 41 29 -12
Public transportation systems 54 45 -9
The roads and highways 46 38 -8
The quality of air 75 77 +2
The availability of good affordable housing 41 52 +11
Gallup World Poll

While Afghans are much more optimistic about environmental factors, such as the quality of air and water, these too are under pressure. Water, a critical resource in South Asia, has seen a consistent downward trend over several years, with a 15-percentage-point decline in the number of Afghans who report being satisfied with the quality of water in their area in the two years between 2016 and 2018. While a majority (55%) of residents still report being satisfied with the water in their local area, this is down from a high of 80% in 2013.

Perceptions of Corruption Further Diminish Trust: Afghans' low ratings of their national institutions may be related to widespread perceptions of corruption plaguing both public and private sector organizations. Views of the government are particularly bleak, with 91% of Afghans seeing governmental corruption as widespread. This was among the highest levels in the world in 2018, essentially tying Lebanon (93%) for the top spot.

Line graph. Trend in Afghans’ perceptions of corruption in both business and government of the past decade.

While residents were somewhat more positive toward private organizations, many believe they are as corrupt as governmental bodies. A slim majority (51%) of Afghans said corruption was widespread in businesses in 2010 -- that percentage has climbed to 87% in 2018.

Implications: The coming presidential elections coincide with recent talks between the United States and the Taliban seeking a peace agreement and political settlement. With the Afghan government excluded from the talks, national institutions will become increasingly more important to the stability of the country if U.S. security forces withdraw in the coming months, per the terms of the draft accord. Whether they can meet these challenges remains an open question.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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