Afghan Youth Debates: Elections Could Herald Economic Recovery
Afghanistan must seek to reduce its dependence on foreign aid by making more use of its mineral reserves, academics told an IWPR debate in the southern city of Kandahar.
Addressing an audience of university students on December 18, panelists said that the current Afghan government suffered from systemic corruption, but that if the April 2014 presidential and provincial elections brought the right leaders to power, there was every chance of building a successful economy.
"We are hoping that a new government will focus on our domestic resources rather than waiting for others to help Afghanistan," said Fazel Khaliq Lalmwal, dean of the law and politics faculty at Kandahar University. "If the Aynak copper mine in Logar province is opened up, and gas fields in the northern provinces and mines in Badakhshan are exploited, we will grow much stronger.
"Afghanistan is also an agriculture-oriented nation, and we should be able to export produce to other countries rather than relying on imports. In future, we should be strong enough to assist others in the region."
Abdul Aziz Akrami, provincial public relations officer for the Afghan Independent Election Commission (AIEC), said effective government was dependent on the success of next year's elections. He urged voters to back candidates who advocated viable economic and social reforms, and stressed that a free and fair ballot meant standing up to and defeating anyone involved in intimidation or fraud.
“If the forthcoming elections are transparent and are free of fraud and government interference, then we will see positive change in this country," he said. "People must vote for a candidate who has a practical agenda for the economy, security and political reform."
Irshad Ahmad Sarpas, a civil society activist, pointed out that significant challenges remained to ensuring a free and fair vote in Kandahar province.
He criticised AIEC staff for failing to prevent the distribution of voter registration cards to people under the age of 18 in parts of the province, while at the same time eligible voters had been denied cards.
“The AIEC has not calculated the correct number of voting cards needed for Kandahar province," he said. "Voting cards should only have been distributed to those who will be 18 or over at the time of the election. According to election law, those under 18 cannot vote."
IWPR later contacted the AIEC chief for Kandahar province, Abdul Hadi, who had been unable to attend the debate. He dismissed claims of widespread fraud and urged the public to come forward with specific evidence of foul play.
"If people have evidence they should bring it and share it with us," he said. "There have probably been two or three cases of people under 18 being registered to vote in the elections. If a person comes in saying he or she is 18, it is very difficult to prove they are lying.”
Jamil Afghan and Mohammad Rahim Bashardost are students at Kandahar University.
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.