Afghan Youth Debates: Financial Independence is Key

Students and panellists at a debate in Ghazni province have expressed concern over women's rights, electoral fraud, and Afghanistan's continued dependence on foreign aid.

Speaking at an IWPR-backed event in Ghazni city on December 25, undergraduates, journalists and local politicians raised what they saw as the key obstacles to a more secure, prosperous future.

Mohammad Aref, a student, argued that it was alarming that the country remained so reliant on outside financial backing despite all the development aid that had come in since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.

"What are the chances of Afghanistan becoming financially independent after the forthcoming polls?” he asked. “That hasn't been achieved even after ten years and the billions of dollars poured into the country.”

Meanwhile, Zholina Faizi, a provincial council member, called for a greater focus on the "deep-rooted traditional pressures" on Afghan women, particularly when it came to them exercising their right to vote in the April 5 elections.

Ahmad Zia Yaqubi, the local government head in Zana Khan district, told the audience that some aid money had certainly been misspent. Nevertheless, he argued, the Afghan economy had made a great deal of headway, and he encouraged the international community to help boost sustainable growth by giving people the means to provide for themselves.

“Although there remain challenges on the ground, the current economic situation is not comparable with 12 years ago," he said. "We have made enormous achievements in our economy. I believe that any new government should ask the international community to teach us how to fish, rather than just providing us with fish. This approach would boost our economy."

The IWPR debate took place before an audience of about 140 university students and villagers. The panelists included Assadullah Jalalzai, head of the journalists' union for Ghazni province, and Ehsanullah Sharifi, the local government chief for Khogyani district.

Faizi told the audience that Afghanistan had made significant strides in improving equality for women since the United States-led invasion, citing gains made in the number of girls going to school.

But she also reminded the audience of the difficulties women faced in using their votes. “I am very concerned that women will not being allowed to take part in the coming elections due to deep-rooted traditional pressures,” she said. "I would like to ask my brothers to allow the female members of their families to go out and vote as is their right. Afghans need not only to maintain the progress we've made over the past 12 years, but also to attain new goals."

Ali Shir Shahir, a journalism student at Ghazni University, raised the issue of election fraud. The 2009 presidential race was heavily criticised following evidence of widespread ballot-stuffing.

“How can we prevent corrupt practices that favour a specific individual?" he asked.

Sharifi replied, “That has happened in past elections. The only way to prevent fraud is to secure polling stations and allow the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, as well as media outlets, to monitor the vote."

Abdullah Lamei is a student in Ghazni province. 

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.