Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Youth Debates: Candidates and Voters Must Focus on Policy

By Abdul Raqib Nuri






Students in the southeastern Paktia province have called on the 11 candidates vying to succeed Afghan president Hamed Karzai to focus on education, the economy and security.

Undergraduates attending a IWPR-backed debate in the provincial centre Gardez urged those standing to ensure that their efforts to rebuild a country torn apart by war were both practical and realistic. More opportunities should be given to young Afghans, they said.

Speaking at the February 12 event, Abdul Matin Jalili, a politics lecturer at Paktia University, stressed the importance of the April 5 poll and warned people not to be taken in by charismatic candidates. Policies and programmes should trump personality at all times.

The IWPR debate was held on Paktia University’s campus and was attended by 100 students and civil society activists. Guest panellists included Sher Ali Faizi, Paktia regional public awareness officer for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Rafi Hamim, the head of civil society group Paktia Kor, and Ehsanullah Mahjor, the chairman of Paktia Press Club.

Hamim pointed out that Paktia province, which shares a border with Pakistan, is a relatively underdeveloped region with little in the way of infrastructure. Literacy rates remain low and access to the internet is poor. The best medium by which candidates can reach voters is therefore radio, he said.

“People can’t read print media because of poor literacy rates and online journalism is ineffective as there are no internet connection services," he told students. "The TV media can’t function either due to the lack of electricity, so the best way for candidates to reach communities is through radio."

Mahjor went on to argue the importance of independent media. He said journalists across the country had a responsibility to report the truth. Holding public figures to account was essential to a free and open society.

“There are already some indications that government officials have used state resources in favour of a specific candidate,” he claimed. “This is a breach of the law."

Faizi agreed that the use of government facilities or funds for campaigning was illegal and said any reports of fraud would be taken seriously by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

“Minor violations will be dealt with by cash fines, but more serious cases could lead to candidates being disqualified,” he said.

Abdul Raqib Nuri is a student at Paktia 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.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.