Perceptions of Politically Engaged, Influential Afghans on the Way Forward

February 27, 2013

A survey of influential Afghan citizens finds most believe that continued international engagement and a transparent 2014 election process are critical to their country’s stability. Most want to end the two-decade war through a negotiated political process that includes reconciliation with the Taliban, though they are divided on how much to give in exchange for a peaceful settlement.


  • Most influential Afghans surveyed for this report are positive about the international engagement in their country since 2001.
  • Most consider that security has deteriorated and are skeptical about the 2014 end date of international combat operations.
  • Most are in favor of a small contingent of international forces to be deployed after 2014.
  • Mistrust of neighbors seen as interfering is widespread, as is the belief that regional dynamics have a major impact on Afghan stability.
  • The majority are equally critical of Afghan foreign policy but do not think that Afghanistan is a threat to others.
  • Border demarcation issues, most believe, should be addressed through a consultative process, as should water rights through international mediation, to help de-escalate regional tensions and act as confidence-building measures.
  • Terrorism is deemed as sourced outside the country, and the Taliban’s strength is seen as tied to external factors.
  • A negotiated political end to the conflict is considered ideal, as is a U.S. role in that process.
  • Most do not believe that the Taliban would agree to the current political order or constitution, but some are willing to negotiate elements of democratic values and gender rights.
  • Afghans do favor free, fair, and transparent elections for 2014 but ask for more consultation and transparency. The majority do not believe that the current political system was imposed and consider democratic values essential for social and political stability.
  • Approximately half of the respondents demand a more decentralized regime through a constitutional review and reform process but do not believe the country is ready for political parties.
  • Corruption, weak governance, militant attacks, foreign meddling, narco-business, and criminality are agreed to be among major challenges facing the country.
  • Most of those surveyed pin their hopes on concepts of peace, tolerance, democratic rule, education, rule of law, employment, and international support. They do not see an alternative to democratic governance.

About the Author

Omar Samad is a former Afghanistan Senior Expert in Residence with the Center for Conflict Management at USIP (2012–13) and a former Afghan Ambassador to France (2009–11) and to Canada (2004–09) and spokesperson of the Afghan Ministry for Foreign Affairs (2001–04). An advocate for freedom and democracy in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he founded the Afghanistan Information Center, launched Azadi Afghan Radio, and was an analyst for CNN and other international media. Ambassador Samad earned his MA in international relations from Tufts University and was assisted in this report by research aides Maral Noori and Atta Nasib.

February 27, 2013