Uncertainty forces Afghan youth abroad

With troops scheduled to withdraw in 2014, a generation of educated Afghan youth look abroad for stability and jobs.

Last Modified: 23 Jun 2013 18:53
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Afghan students are well educated, but many seek work overseas after threats and a lack of jobs [GALLO/GETTY]

Kabul, Afghanistan - On June 3, as Tahmina and her brother Mohammad Sayed Sediqi headed towards the final security check at Kabul International Airport, they knew that the decisions they had made and the current situation in Afghanistan would make their return impossible. 

Tahmina and Mohammad work for the United States Agency for International Development and the United Nations, respectively, which has made them and their family in northeastern Afghanistan's Kapisa province a target for the Taliban. The 21- and 24-year-old were flying to Canada for professional training, another factor that would put them at risk of a Taliban attack were they to return.

"[The Taliban] distribute shabnameh, night letters, encouraging the capture of [my father] and his children that he let work for foreigners," Tahmina told Al Jazeera.

USAID and the UN are directly funded by the governments of the "occupying" forces the Taliban has spent the past 12 years fighting, and the Taliban claims the groups have ties with foreign intelligence.

Always at risk

In a country where two-thirds of the population is under 25 and the government says it needs to create half a million jobs annually to stave off increasing unemployment, the UN and USAID jobs offered the Sediqi siblings rare opportunities for an income.

Though they thought the 105 kilometres between their family home in Kapisa and their work in Kabul would shield them from Taliban threats, Mohammad and Tahmina soon received word that, even in the Afghan capital, they were being watched.

"People from our village warn us that we are always at risk of attack," Mohammad said of the "several" warnings he and his sister had received in Kabul. And it is not just working with foreigners that have made them targets: Mohammad said 90 percent of their troubles were simply because his sister works. To the Taliban, he says, "a woman working with foreign governments means she has strayed from Islam".

Years of threats have taken their toll on the Sediqi siblings, who both say their freedom of movement has been impeded by the constant warnings. "We can't build our own lives under these circumstances," Mohammad told Al Jazeera.

These threats, along with realities on the ground - a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace named Afghanistan the least peaceful country in 2012 - have made the siblings "hopeless" for their future in Afghanistan.

Looking west

Instead, they are looking westward for a better, more secure future. "The situation is so bad that we can't even bring back the skills we will gain at the training to our own country", Mohammad said. Instead, the siblings hope the Canadian government will accept them as one of the 250,000 immigrants that enter the country annually.

Yet although Canada is home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, the conservative government in Ottawa has recently implemented a series of changes tightening refugee restrictions and making it more difficult for applicants to bring siblings and parents over.

In the end it is our Afghanistan. We are Afghans: if we don't work to improve this nation, who will?

Abdullah Khenjani, Channel One

"If the Canadians refuse us, it means they are handing us straight to the Talibs. They won't even give us the time to speak," Mohammad said a week before departing to Canada.

For Tahmina, who estimated there was an 85 percent chance that the Taliban would return to power after the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014, this prospect was especially daunting. "As a woman in Afghanistan, I have already seen their hostile policies."

The Sediqi siblings say they represent a large proportion of Afghan youth who fear the prospects of 2014. Others, however, are less cynical about the country's future. In a March speech, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, accused foreign media of making a "film" out of 2014.

Our Afghanistan

Karzai said that while Afghans often say they fear 2014, "if you ask them about 1393 [2014 in the Persian calendar], they never mention any fears".

Abdullah Khenjani, news director at Channel One, one of the hundreds of private media outlets that have flourished since the fall of the Taliban, shares the president's sentiments that the threats associated with 2014 have been overblown by the media. "In the past four decades, everyone who fled the country were the educated, skilled youth."

This, said Khenjani, has left the country in the hands of people who lack the skills for governance. "I meet with officials from the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan at least four times each day. I call the Taliban 'terrorists' at least 10 times per day."

Though he says he, too, has been unable to return to his home province to visit his father's grave for three years, he has little fear in the Afghan capital. "It takes so much effort to train a suicide bomber. Why would they target me over an embassy or a ministry?" Khenjani told Al Jazeera from his office.

Many of the youth who flee the Central Asian nation, said Khenjani, do so for economic or cultural, not political, reasons.

"Of course everyone wants freedom. They want to be able to go to a cafe with their boyfriend or girlfriend, but even in Kabul they feel watched," Khenjani said of the cultural reasons that lead many young Afghans abroad.

Though even educated, more well-to-do city-dwelling youth such as the Sediqi siblings fear for their future, Khenjani said: "In the end it is our Afghanistan. We are Afghans: if we don't work to improve this nation, who will?"

Follow Ali Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye


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