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

Afghan Youth Debates: Students Told to Think Before Voting

By Mohammad Khan Raihan

Student voters have been urged to pay close attention to the policies of those standing in Afghanistan's presidential election and to make sure they back the most credible candidate.

Panellists speaking at an IWPR debate in the country's southeastern Paktia province said it was vital that voters took the time to study the backgrounds of those running in the April 5 polls to establish whether they were qualified for the job.

Shir Ali Faizi, a regional public awareness officer for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), the body set up to oversee the election, argued that Afghans had a duty to vote if they believed in peace.

He encouraged everyone aged over 18 to head to the ballot box and in doing so help put an end to more than 30 years of instability and conflict.

“Whoever hates war and loves peace should take part in these elections,” Faizi told students.

The IWPR debate took place on March 25 at Paktia University. The guest speakers included Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, an engineer and head of the Youth Solidarity Association in Paktia, as well as Paktia University lecturers Sharifullah Amin and Nurajan Atef.

Ahmadzai told the audience, "Voting is our right and we should support those who are deserving candidates. Every voter should think hard about who can best help improve the lives and welfare of Afghans, as well as the country overall. They should disregard ethnic and regional considerations."

Sayed Jamal, a student studying law and political science at the university, asked what sort of qualifications a good candidate should possess.

Amin replied that the country's future leader should be a committed Muslim and free of accusations of a criminal past. A number of candidates standing in the presidential race are well-known to have fought in Afghanistan’s civil war during the early and mid 1990s.

“A candidate should be faithful to the religion and to the people of this country," Amin said. "He should have strong policies and good programmes."

Atef went on to discuss the importance of maintaining a healthy scepticism about the promises made by candidates in the provincial council elections taking place the same day as the presidential ballot.

He urged students not to be deceived by over-ambitious plans which would either fail to gain the required funding, or which lacked the backing of central government.

“Provincial candidates have promised people they'll begin road and bridge construction projects," he said. "But this is not part of their remit – they can only offer advice on such schemes."

Hafizullah, another student, asked whether people living in the more remote areas of Paktia province were aware of the elections and their significance.

Atef argued that although the IEC had made great strides in raising public awareness, many remote villages remained poorly-informed.

“The biggest challenge the country has faced is informing the public in areas where security is poor," he added.

Mohammad Khan Raihan 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.