Afghan Youth Debates: Concern at Delay to US Security Pact

Students in the western Afghan province of Herat have raised concerns about President Hamed Karzai's continued refusal to sign a pact that would guarantee a limited United States military presence after NATO-led forces withdraw at the end of this year.

Karzai has delayed signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), and this has raised fears of a "zero option" where the US would pull its armed forces out of Afghanistan entirely. The danger is that the Taleban would exploit the resulting security vacuum.

Behrawan Farzam, an economics lecturer at Herat University, said the president had a responsibility to sign the agreement swiftly, not only to ensure US military assistance beyond 2014 but also to guarantee continued foreign aid funding.

“If the BSA gets signed before the elections are held [in April], then…. security will become better and this will encourage people to vote,” Farzam told an audience of students at the private Kahkashan-e Sharq University in Herat.

Another speaker at the event, political commentator Abdul Qader Kamel, urged students to go out and vote en masse on April 5. He said worries about ballot-rigging, insurgent attacks and interference by foreign states should be put aside – the priority was ensuring a high turnout in a process that was crucial to Afghanistan's future.

“Fewer than 100 days remain before the elections, so all political parties, civil society organisations and particularly young people should be encouraging others to take part,” Kamel said.

Uzra Azizi is a student at Herat University and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.