FactCheck: 93 per cent Afghan support
Updated on 27 July 2009
How many Afghans want the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan? And how many support the presence of western forces?
"We do measure [the support we have from Afghan people for our initiative], we ask people in Afghanistan whether they want the Taliban to return to running the country. And in every poll that's done, 93 per cent of them say they don't."
Chris Bryant, Foreign Office minister, Question Time, BBC One, 16 July 2009
British troops are in Afghanistan as part of a Nato effort to restore security in the formerly Taliban-governed country so reconstruction and development can take place, not least the 20 August election.
This doesn't mean their presence isn't controversial at home. Recently on Question Time, Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik spoke out against what he called the "unwinnable" war, saying we "pretend that we're doing enough for hearts and minds". "We don't measure the support we have from Afghan people for our initiative," he said.
Foreign Office minister, Chris Bryant, replied that he was "completely wrong". "We do measure," he said, "we ask people in Afghanistan whether they want the Taliban to return to running the country.
"And in every poll that's done, 93 per cent of them say they don't."
It was this last figure that caught our attention - it seems very high, and very specific. So is it backed up by the evidence?
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A Foreign Office spokesperson said Bryant's claim was based on a poll by the Asia Foundation, an NGO based in San Francisco, with offices across Asia and in Afghanistan. Its fourth Survey of the Afghan People interviewed 6,593 Afghans from each of the country's 34 provinces.
It's a weighty report. But we couldn't find anything specific in the 187 pages to back up Bryant's 93 per cent claim, and neither could an Asia Foundation spokesperson.
More luck, however, in a poll for the BBC, America's ABC News and the German broadcaster ARD, which surveyed Afghans face-to-face in all of the country's provinces at the start of this year.
Although the sample is smaller than the Asia Foundation's mammoth effort, it's a still-not-inconsiderable 1,534 participants.
This poll asked, "Who would you rather have ruling Afghanistan today: the current government, or the Taliban?"
Eighty-two per cent said the current government, just 4 per cent said the Taliban (10 per cent plumped for "other", the remainder expressed no opinion).
In comparison, in 2005, 91 per cent backed the current government, and only 1 per cent the Taliban.
Is this enough to back up Bryant's claim, though? The proportion that do want the Taliban back in power is, in fact, still smaller than the 7 per cent his claim suggests.
But this is not quite the same as saying that 93 per cent, or even 96 per cent, don't want the Taliban back.
We can tell from these figures that 82 per cent of Afghans prefer the current government to the Taliban.
We could also say that only 4 per cent of Afghans want the Taliban back in control of their country.
But it's trickier to infer that 96 per cent actively don't want them back - we know, for example, that 4 per cent don't seem to mind too much.
Still, it is fair to say that the Taliban come out pretty unpopular.
The majority of Afghans - 58 per cent - see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country, measured against local warlords, drug traffickers or the US or Afghan governments.
Only seven per cent of people said they had a favorable opinion of the Taliban.
Eight per cent of respondents did say they supported the presence of Taliban fighters in the country - although 70 per cent strongly opposed it.
However, 22 per cent of Afghans thought there was at least weak support for the Taliban in their local area. (The report notes there were strong regional variations, with support for the Taliban thought to be far more widespread in the south west of the country).
Overall, 72 per cent of those surveyed thought there was no Taliban support; 9 per cent thought it was "fairly" or "very" strong.
What about support for western forces? The majority of people - 69 per cent - said the US-led invasion and overthrow of the Taliban was a good thing for their country.
That's a substantial majority, though still a significant drop from the 88 per cent who thought so in 2006.
And 59 per cent said they still supported the presence of Nato forces (63 per cent for US forces), but 40 per cent said they opposed the Nato military presence (36 per cent for US forces).
Things have headed in the wrong direction - in 2006, Nato forces scored 78 per cent support, and 30 per cent strong support (now 13 per cent).
And then, just 21 per cent said they opposed the presence of Nato forces.
A recent poll found that only 4 per cent of Afghans would rather have the Taliban in charge than the current government; 82 per cent preferred the current government.
In 2005, just 1 per cent wanted the Taliban back; 91 per cent plumped for the current government.
This isn't necessarily the same as saying 93 per cent of people don't want the Taliban back, although the evidence does point in Bryant's favour.
A majority of Afghans nationwide say they have a low opinion of the Taliban; the Taliban usually comes off as scoring less than 10 per cent support, depending which measure is used.
On the wider point of the war in Afghanistan, a majority (though nowhere near 93 per cent) still say the overthrow of the Taliban was a good thing, and still support the presence of foreign troops in the country.
But support for western forces has decreased in the past few years, while support for the Taliban has - although only slightly - increased.
FactCheck rating: 2
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Question Time, BBC
Asia Foundation: a survey of the Afghan people
Afghanistan national opinion poll 2009