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Afghanistan: Students Express Concern Over Country’s Transition

Students at Kabul University Half of Afghanistan’s population is estimated to be under the age of 30. Many of these people grew up during two decades of war and conflict. Some lived for years as refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Now they say they look to the future with a mix of hope and concern. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari recently visited Kabul University to talk to more than a dozen students about their lives and about the country’s recent elections. She found that some believe the newly elected parliament will help stabilize the country and speed development. But half said they did not vote because of lack of trust in candidates and frustration with the political process.

Kabul, 27 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Their demands are simple. They want jobs, an improved education system and teaching standards, and also better university facilities.

But in Afghanistan, a country that is still only slowly recovering from decades conflict, even such simple demands are difficult.

Mohammad, 21, is a student at the faculty of law and political science. He tells RFE/RL that unemployment is the main problem facing young Afghans.

“I, as one of Afghanistan’s youth and hopes for the future, will graduate from Kabul University in two years. It is the best academic center in Afghanistan and I also speak English and I’m able to operate a computer. But I keep having bad thoughts [about the future], [and] what I will do?” Mohammad says.
"In the provinces people have no jobs, they live in poverty. The economy is poor, people can’t even feed themselves." -- Akmal, 22

Mohammad tells RFE/RL that he has witnessed with great concern the fate of university graduates who have not been able to find a job according to their qualifications.

He says that society at large seems to have little faith in young people and that connections are needed in order to obtain a good job.

Mohammad voted during the 18 September elections. Now, he hopes that the candidates will keep their promises and serve the Afghan nation.

Farzaneh, 22, is a student at the faculty of science. She, too, is concerned about the future once her studies are over.

“It is possible that once I get my diploma, I might have to sit at home and say to myself ‘why did I go to the university’? [That instead] I should have learned a [practical] skill like how to sew and that it would have been better [for me]. I am very worried,” Farzaneh says.

Farzaneh says that she did not vote because she does not trust any of the candidates. She said they just made “empty promises” and filled the streets with campaign posters.

Najibeh, 23, from Badakhshan studies Turkish literature at Kabul University. She participated in the elections hoping that things will change for her and her countrymen once the parliament starts its work.

“Maybe there are some [candidates] who could achieve something positive. We young people have many demands from the parliament, young people are without jobs, we have many problems [the parliament] should do its best. Our expectation from the parliament is that they should focus on the society, they should focus on young people who are growing up under very bad conditions,” Najibeh says.

Najibeh tells RFE/RL that many students suffer from financial problems and some of them cannot even pay for transportation fees. She believes that female students have an even more difficult time because in many cases they have to face discrimination and insecurity.

Akmal, 22, studies at the engineering faculty of Kabul University. He did not vote because of disillusionment and distrust in candidates.

He is also concerned about lack of employment opportunities and the quality of the educational system. But he cites other concerns such as the slow pace of reconstruction and widespread corruption.

“We call on the [future] parliament members not to think only about their own benefits. Parliament can be very positive if it serves the people’s interest. We see in other countries, they have a parliament, they have a president and ministers. [But] in our country appointments by President Karzai have failed to stop bribery," Akmal says. "I have witnessed it myself in many places. We also see that whenever one of our ministers passes through town all streets are closed. I think this is very wrong, that someone becomes so important and enjoys [so many privileges]. Whether it is a minister, or a [future] member of parliament, I think this is wrong.”

Akmal expresses suspicion over the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

“Not having fighting in Afghanistan is not enough, only a few people who live in Kabul earn some money, in the provinces people have no jobs, they live in poverty. The economy is poor, people can’t even feed themselves. I think there is nothing positive about the presence of U.S. troops and all the other countries that have come here. They are just after their own interests,” Akmal says.

But 25-year-old Kader from the faculty of law and political science has a different view.

“Our country cannot be without them, [without their presence] there could civil war, warlordism, no one would be able to study and go to the universities. I think the presence of U.S. troops is positive here,” Kader says.

He voted with enthusiasm during the 18 September poll. He hopes that Afghanistan’s future parliament will address youth issues and help move the country forward.

See also:

RFE/RL Special: Afghanistan Votes
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.