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

Kandahar's Employment Crisis

Skilled Pakistanis are taking lots of jobs in Kandahar while local men stand idle.
By Shoib Safi

Pakistani workers are illegally crossing the Afghan border to take jobs in Kandahar while unemployed Afghans workers stand in line waiting for jobs.

It’s estimated that around 5,000 Pakistanis work in the southern province, either in brick factories or with non-governmental organisations, NGOs, on reconstruction projects.

Brick factory owners – who employ the majority of migrants – say they do so because Afghan workers don’t know how to operate the equipment. More than two decades of civil war have left Afghanistan with few industries where men can get the experience that is needed, and illiteracy levels are high.

Officials recognise that resentment and anger is building among local workers, but maintain that little can be done to ease their plight.

So many crowds of unemployed Afghans are now congregating on the city’s streets that they often block traffic and the police are called in to disperse them – which they sometimes do by force.

Jobless Nasratullah said, “The police beat us and bother us a lot, but where can we go and to whom we can complain?”

Hafizullah, another unemployed labourer, told IWPR that nobody cared about their plight – and warned that the situation may end in violence, saying, “If there is no prospect of work, many will have to commit crimes, or kill themselves.”

There have been no such violent incidents so far, but tensions between Afghans and Pakistani migrants are growing.

Thousands of Afghans workers come to Kandahar from as far away as the western province of Herat to find jobs as day labourers. There is some work available in private housing developments and with local NGOs funded by the United Nations or other international bodies.

The high profile of western organisations feeds the resentment felt by Afghans, who then speculate where the billions of aid dollars are being spent. In an attempt to counter this, many internationals make an effort to ensure contractors hire local workers.

But in Kandahar, Pakistani workers are on hand with the relevant experience their Afghan competitors lack – and they are happy to accept the low wages offered. As a result, many of local men can go for weeks on end without a day’s work, waiting around in public squares and street corners in the hope that someone will hire them.

Agha Gul, 35, travelled from Herat in an unsuccessful bid to find a job. He feels that his options are limited, telling IWPR, “Whenever there is work in our country, the foreigners take it.

“If we go to Iran, the authorities will send us back from the border, and if we go to Pakistan the police will bother us.”

Mohammad Afzal from Zabol province, to the east of Kandahar, said that even when he does find work, his average daily wage is less than two US dollars, leaving him with hardly any cash to save once his everyday costs have been paid.

Brick factory owner Haji Char Gul told IWPR that he had been forced to employ around 30 people from the Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan because there were no skilled Afghans available.

Pakistanis are also in demand in other industries such the reconstruction of roads and government buildings. Those who cross the border illegally can still be issued with a work permit, if they are able to get a job with a government contractor in Kandahar.

Dost Mohammad Khan Arghastani, director of the local labour and social affairs department, told IWPR that more than 2,000 Pakistani workers had been issued with six-month permits so they could take up jobs as masons, electricians and day labourers with local contractors.

Arghastani said the governor’s administrators have discussed the problem of local unemployment, but “we decided that we do not have professional Afghan workers and we need these skilled Pakistanis, so we let them work here.”

Shoib Safi is an independent journalist based in Kandahar.