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

Afghan Youth Debates: Younger Generation the Catalyst for Change

By Mohammad Adel

Afghanistan's young people are critical to building a more cohesive society and a stronger, rejuvenated economy, an IWPR debate has heard.

Spin Rawan Nawruzi, editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper in the southeastern Khost province, told an audience of students there that young people remained an untapped resource essential to Afghanistan’s future security and prosperity.

In 2008, the United Nations Development Programme estimated that 68 per cent of Afghans were under the age of 25. Today, that percentage is likely to have decreased only slightly, due to a marginal rise in life expectancy and a decline in birth rates.

"In my opinion, our youth should be given a larger role in rebuilding the country," Nawruzi told the April 30 debate, adding that this was one area where President Hamed Karzai's successor would need to demonstrate far greater focus.

"Young people make up a large part of the country's workforce and energy,” he said. “Factional, ethnic and regional differences can prove harmful; it's better to rely on the younger generation's knowledge and education."

The IWPR debate took place at the privately-run Ghazi Amanullah Khan University in Khost city, the administrative centre of a restive region of Afghanistan bordering on Pakistan.

The province has suffered from significant insurgent activity since the United States-led invasion in 2001, with numerous deadly strikes against NATO troops and Afghan security forces.

Addressing the debate, Nur Ahmad Nur, the dean of the university, agreed that the next president had to ensure that the country's young people were given top priority.

He said education and training could help establish the foundation on which a new, invigorated nation could be built. He added that ministers had a responsibility to engage Afghanistan’s youth to break the cycle of conflict.

"Once young people are given proper direction, a sound education, and opportunities to work as part of the state, then I am confident that major problems will be solved," Nur said.

Anwar Zahed, the head of the provincial branch of the information and culture ministry, said enormous strides had been made in the country’s development since 2001, but warned too of the need to address the inevitable psychological damage inflicted on some of those caught up in the conflict.

"I believe that unless we work at rebuilding the minds of the people, particularly the youth, we risk losing the achievements we've made," he told students.

Audience member Qudrat Shah said Karzai's successor – likely to be either Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who are due to fight a run-off election in late May – must govern by example.

"I have many hopes, but I want the future president first to ensure security and then to eliminate corruption," he said.

Azizullah, another participant, added, "Work [within the new administration] should be given to those with expertise. Security should be ensured and young people should be provided with job opportunities."

Mohammad Adel is a university student in Khost 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.