Afghanistan’s ruling elite and international power brokers must listen to the fast-growing youth population — including junior Taliban members – if the war is to end, the country’s new youth delegate to the United Nations said.
In a nation at war for 40 years and where two-thirds of the population is aged 24 or under, 20-year-old Aisha Khurram said the younger generation’s concerns have been shunted aside even as they inherit the conflict.
“For decades and even centuries, our fears and future have always been decided by the warring parties, irrespective of our perspective, irrespective of our opinions and our part in the process,” Khurram told the AFP news agency in the UN’s Kabul compound.
The international relations student at Kabul University was picked from 100 candidates for the role earlier this month.
For Khurram, reaching out to all young Afghans – including those joining the ranks of the Taliban armed uprising – is critical.
“Before they join the militant groups … we have to make the opportunities for them,” she said. “We have to hear their voices, we have to consider their right for education, their right for work opportunities and their right for life.”
Afghanistan’s mainstream media – concentrated in Kabul – only reflects the views of urban Afghans, she said, effectively blacking out opinions of vast swaths of the country, especially young people.
She offered the #MyRedLine social media movement as an example in which young Afghans – mostly educated – state the “red line” they are not prepared to see Afghanistan cross in any eventual peace deal with the Taliban.
Khurram, who was born in Pakistan after her family fled violence in Afghanistan, came of age at a time when the gruelling conflict was worsening.
According to the UN, the period of July to September this year was the deadliest on record for civilians, with more than 2,500 killed.
With half of the world’s population now aged under 25, the UN is trying to amplify young voices at major summits through a youth delegation programme.