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

Afghan Youth Debates: Ghazni Activists Say No to Ethnic Voting

By Ibadullah Omar






Afghanistan's complex mix of ethnic rivalries must not be allowed to overshadow efforts to hold free and fair elections, an IWPR debate has heard.

Mesam Montazeri, a civil society activist, told an audience of more than 110 students in the southern city of Ghazni that voters must see past traditional ethnic loyalties for the sake of peace and stability.

"Uniting the nation is a fundamental need of Afghan society," he told the debate. "Unless we work together, we cannot hope to remove these ethnic barriers."

Afghans will head to the polls for the second time this year on June 14 to take part in a run-off vote that will decide the next president of the country.

The two candidates – Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai – are identified with the Tajik and Pashtun communities, respectively, and there are growing concerns that the ethnic difference may shape voter choices, posing a further risk to stability after the poll.

The debate took place on June 7 at the provincial branche of the information and culture ministry. As well as Montazeri, the guest speakers included Khatera Sultani, a women's rights activist, Abbas Aliyar, a lecturer at Balkh University, and Hussein Rahimi, a freelance reporter. Eighty per cent of the Ghazni University students who attended the discussion were women.

Rahimi told the debate that he believed the voting public had two crucial, though not mutually exclusive, demands to make of President Hamed Karzai's successor – security and peace. He claimed that neither of the two candidates was capable of delivering on these priorities.

"The people of Afghanistan have two important demands. The first is ensuring security and the second is the successful completion of the peace process with the Taleban,” he said. “Neither of the two presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has the ability to fulfill these legitimate demands."

Zahra Rezai, a student in the audience, asked the panel exactly what female voters should demand of their next president.

Montazeri replied, "Women should expect an end to gender-based discrimination. They should be free from oppression and they should be seen as human beings equal to men."

Ibadullah Omar is a student at Ghazni 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.