Violent Afghan protests over the burning of Qurans have strengthened the hand of those in Washington who argue for a faster reduction of U.S. troops. Especially galling was an incident of violence within Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, in which a disaffected driver shot and killed two American advisers.
Many Americans seem to be saying that if the Afghan people don't want us there, why should we stay? That's dubious logic because we are not in Afghanistan as a favor to the Afghan people. We are there to protect our own self-interest in not having their territory once again become a haven for al Qaeda.
It's also a fallacy to assume that most Afghans are anti-American. The protests, which tapered off Tuesday, have involved a few thousand people out of a population of 30 million. The attacks on Americans have been carried out by a handful of assailants. President Hamid Karzai has accepted President Obama's apology over the Quran-burning incident, condemned the violence and called for restraint. His security forces have policed the protests and suffered heavier casualties than our own.
While no doubt most people in Afghanistan are outraged over the desecration of their holy book, they are not anti-American. The most recent survey of Afghan views, conducted by ABC/BBC/ARD in November 2010, found that 62% of Afghans support the U.S. military presence while only 11% support the Taliban. That's considerably higher than the share of Americans who back the mission—35%. Another poll, conducted by the Asia Foundation last year, found that only 21% of Afghans blame foreign troops for the war waged by the Taliban and other insurgents. Most Afghans think the Taliban are fighting to gain power, make money, or for other selfish motives.
One can always question opinion polls in a country where illiteracy and insecurity are rampant. But Afghans also demonstrate with their actions where their sympathies lie. More than 350,000 Afghan men have joined the security forces and more would sign up if there were money to pay them. Estimates of the insurgency's strength are generally under 30,000 men. That's far below the number of mujahedeen—an estimated 100,000 out of a smaller population—who took up arms against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
There is considerable resentment of the United States in Afghanistan, as you would expect from any proud people who are compelled to deal with a foreign military presence. But the biggest reason Afghans are wary is because the NATO mission has not delivered what they most want—freedom from fear. In the Asia Foundation poll, 46% said the country was moving in the right direction but pervasive insecurity was their greatest concern.