Why some young Afghans choose to stay

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Scott Peter­son

KARINAT Saa­dat is de­ter­mined to beat the odds and stay in Af ghanistan, even as she wit­nesses her uni­ver­sity-aged peers flee a lack of jobs and prospects, and deep­en­ing in­se­cu­rity. “It’s up to us, it’s up to hu­man be­ings to do any­thing; if we de­cide, we can do it,” says Ms. Saa­dat, a stu­dent of Pash­tun lit­er­a­ture, a poet and a pain­ter, who comes from a largely il­lit­er­ate fam­ily. “There are a lot of chances in Kabul. It’s wrong to say there are no chances.” Saa­dat may be in the mi­nor­ity – judg­ing by the sheer vol­ume of young Afghans among 178,230 of their coun­try­men who sought asy­lum in Europe last year.

But she is not alone. Afghan Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah said on World Refugee Day, that more than 60,000 Afghan refugees had vol­un­tar­ily repa­tri­ated from Iran and Pak­istan in the first six months of 2016. “It is a sign of con­fi­dence [in] fu­ture in­side the coun­try,” he tweeted. That stands in con­trast to to­day’s UNHCR re­port, which notes a 50 per­cent in­crease in forcibly dis­placed peo­ple over the past five years, re­sult­ing in the worst refugee cri­sis since World War II.

It’s not that 19-year-old Saa­dat or the many other young Afghans who have cho­sen to stay in Afghanistan think the Tal­iban is go­ing to end its in­sur­gency to­mor­row. Nor that scarce jobs will some­how be­come plen­ti­ful. Nor that the Afghan gov­ern­ment will im­prove and cor­ro­sive cor­rup­tion will end. It’s be­cause they love their coun­try, and won­der who will re­build it af­ter decades of war, if the very tal­ent to do so sim­ply seeps away. “The young gen­er­a­tion all want to stay in Afghanistan, they love their coun­try,” says Hek­mat­ull Shah­baz, a re­cent grad­u­ate and an of­fi­cial of the Afghan Olympic com­mit­tee, who ed­its the weekly Kankash youth mag­a­zine. “Young peo­ple will work hard. But if I leave my coun­try, if we leave, who will make this coun­try?”

Yet to con­vince them to stay, he says, “the gov­ern­ment needs to pave the way for civil so­ci­ety and job cre­ation.” That’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult as Western cash and pro­grammes dry up, 15 years af­ter US forces first ousted the Tal­iban in 2001 and, along­side NATO na­tions, be­gan a vast na­tion-build­ing ex­er­cise that has swal­lowed bil­lions of dol­lars and tens of thou­sands of lives. With US and Western forces now far less nu­mer­ous, Afghan se­cu­rity forces are fac­ing an in­creas­ingly po­tent Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

Since the fall of the Tal­iban, Afghanistan has reg­is­tered sig­nif­i­cant de­mo­graphic im­prove­ments, from more wide­spread ed­u­ca­tion and bet­ter health care, to less child mor­tal­ity and longer life­spans. But the in­sur­gency – and an econ­omy grow­ing at one-tenth the pace it was in 2013 – are caus­ing many to leave. A grass­roots cam­paign called “Afghanistan Needs You.” aimed at ed­u­cated young Afghans to pre­vent brain drain and stem the ex­o­dus, was started last year by a hand­ful of young ac­tivists.

Western an­a­lysts who have watched the rise and fall of the lat­est burst of op­ti­mism, af­ter the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, say young Afghans want­ing to stay are fac­ing the grav­ity of a wors­en­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. The 2014 vote yielded a cum­ber­some two-headed gov­ern­ment. In­vest­ment lev­els are drop­ping, and many busi­nesses are clos­ing down. “The push fac­tors are get­ting worse,” says a Western of­fi­cial in Kabul who asked not to be named, re­fer­ring to the shrink­ing econ­omy and se­cu­rity prob­lems. “There is a sense that the casino is still open, but the odds are get­ting worse,” says the of­fi­cial. “There may be fewer and fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties, but they still see, once in a while, the guy be­side them be­comes a mil­lion­aire be­cause he finds a great con­tract, or the right con­nec­tions to the palace.”

“The re­al­ity is that Afghanistan right now has the best ed­u­cated young gen­er­a­tion it ever has had, and they can­not ap­ply their op­ti­mism, their pa­tri­o­tism… and their new de­vel­oped skills,” says Alexey Yusupov, coun­try direc­tor of the Ger­man Friedrich Ebert Foun­da­tion in Kabul. “There is a huge gap, the econ­omy can’t fill this gap … so peo­ple will leave. — Courtesy: The Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.