With few jobs available, joining the Taleban may look like the easy option.
Afghanistan’s high rate of unemployment is driving young men into the arms of insurgent groups, speakers at a series of recent IWPR-organised debates agreed.
Participants in Paktika, Kunar and Helmand provinces all said that young men often had so few employment options that some travelled illegally to Pakistan or Iran to find work, while others joined an insurgent group.
“I know many people who have lost their lives travelling abroad illegally after joining the insurgency because they could not find work,” Gholam Rahman, head of the Paktika labour union, said at a debate in the southeastern province’s Yusuf Khel district.
Mohammad Wasil, head of youth affairs in Paktika’s department for information and culture, said young men were targeted by insurgent groups, but were also drawn to them by the power conferred by weapons.
“The [insurgents] target unemployed youngsters and provide them with weapons, motorbikes and various other benefits, in order to recruit them into their ranks,” he told the debate on January 28.
Mohammad Nabi Hamdard, the head of the statistical office in Paktika, said that 35 per cent of young people in the province were unemployed.
“If young people were provided with work… they would not be targeted,” he added.
Employment also featured in an IWPR debate hosted by the department for women’s affairs in the southern Helmand province on January 24.
“We have educated young people, with bachelor’s and master’s degree and doctorates, but there is no work for them,” said Farid Ahmad Farhang, deputy head of the provincial information and culture department. “Young people are forced to take up arms and fight the government due to the lack of work.”
Jamila Niazi, the head of the women's affairs, department, said that “if unemployed young people were provided with work, security would be 90 per cent guaranteed”.
In Kunar in eastern Afghanistan, Shafiqullah Wiyar, head of the provincial labour and social affairs department, said the situation there was particularly dire.
“In percentage terms, some 80 per cent may be unemployed,” he said, noting that for every vacancy in his own department, there were 30 or 40 applications.
Mohammad Hanif Khairkhwa, the local government head in Sarkano district, said the government needed to sponsor ambitious scale infrastructure projects as a way of generating jobs.
“When hydroelectric dams are built, factories will be built. When factories are built, people will find work in them,” he said. “So I believe it should be a government priority to provide people with job opportunities."
Asked about reintegration programmes for insurgent fighters who defected, Khairkhwa said, “The government and the public each have a responsibility – the government should work transparently to create jobs, and the public should help raise awareness among young people and prevent them being recruited by the armed opposition.”
This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society.