As many Afghans continue to leave their country, a new survey found their confidence in the government has fallen to the lowest point in a decade. DW talks to expert Abdullah Ahmadzai on what Kabul could do about it.
The nationwide survey, published by The Asia Foundation on Tuesday, November 17, shows that Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country declined to the lowest point in a decade - after steadily rising through 2014 - with more than half of all interviewed Afghans (57.5 percent) saying the country is moving in the wrong direction - up from 40.4 percent last year.
Conducted between June 11-28, and titled Afghanistan in 2015: A Survey of the Afghan People, the public opinion poll cites deteriorating security, unemployment, and corruption as the main reasons for the increase in pessimism. For instance, the number of Afghans who say they are afraid for their personal safety is at its highest recorded level (67.4 percent) since the survey began eleven years ago.
Afghans are therefore less confident in their public institutions, with the results showing increased skepticism in the government's ability to effectively address these challenges. The survey comes just two days after Germany launched a media campaign in Afghanistan aimed at raising awareness and deterring potential migrants from paying criminals to organize perilous journeys to reach Europe. In order to deal with the rapidly growing migrant numbers, Berlin wants fewer Afghans - who make up the second-largest group of people seeking asylum in Germany - to come to Europe and more of them to return to their home country.
In a DW interview, Abdullah Ahmadzai, The Asia Foundation's Country Representative in Afghanistan, speaks about the reasons for the loss of confidence in the new government and what he believes should be done to make Afghanistan more attractive to its young population.
Afghanistan needs to create job opportunities for its youth as a means to tackle the brain drain, says Ahmadzai
DW: Why has the Afghan government become increasingly unpopular?
Abdullah Ahmadzai: The newly formed National Unity Government (NUG) is grappling with multiple and simultaneous security, political and economic challenges. The NUG continues to face huge problems, including a deteriorating economy in the face of declining international aid and foreign military spending, and the full assumption of security responsibilities by Afghan forces amid increasing attacks by armed opposition groups.
Now, the government is facing an added challenge of disappointment on the part of the Afghan people following last year's contentious election process. Our data show that Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country fell to the lowest point in a decade, after steadily rising through 2014.
There has been a sharp decline in the level of satisfaction with and confidence in different levels of government and public institutions, and the number of Afghans who are satisfied with how democracy works in their country hit an all-time low in 2015.
Further, the absence of or ambiguity on short-term, quick-impact initiatives to address the country's immediate economic issues, aside from long-term feasible security and economic development plans, may contribute to increasing public concern and insecurity.
Given that Afghans are leaving the country in large numbers, what way do you see for the Afghan government to keep the people from emigrating?
I am alarmed by Afghanistan's rapid brain drain, especially of young Afghans. 40 percent of Afghans polled in our 2015 survey say they would leave Afghanistan if given the opportunity. In fact, in our survey, the economy and unemployment emerged as major concerns for Afghans, especially for youth and for women. Many Afghans say their employment opportunities have declined over the past year.
I believe the government can overcome the myriad of challenges by continuing to make progress in areas such as education and employment. First, the national government must look at ways to make the local business environment more friendly and enabling. This will immediately generate employment.
Second, the government needs to address the lack of an adequately sized or educated adult population needed to staff these services, including revenue collection to deliver public services.
Afghanistan has experienced widespread, unprecedented improvement in delivering basic public services - nationwide coverage and quality of roads, education, drinking water and health services; but more than half of Afghanistan's adults lack any level of formal education and few are qualified to staff these newly built school buildings, dams, clinics, power lines and roads.
At the moment, the German government is also discussing the establishment of so-called "safe zones" within Afghanistan where migrants, whose asylum-requests have been rejected, are to be sent back. What should in your view be considered a "safe zone," and are there any such zones available in Afghanistan at the moment?
In our survey, more than insecurity, unemployment is listed as the biggest problem for the Afghan youth. In my view, lack of jobs, and therefore declining optimism for a brighter future in the country, is one of the reasons why Afghan youth leave the country in search of a better future abroad. I believe more efforts are required to provide employment opportunities in Afghanistan for the youth before the repatriation of these Afghan asylum seekers takes place.
"Safe zones," in this instance, could be urban centers in Afghanistan with job and training opportunities for the Afghan youth while prioritizing those who get repatriated to Afghanistan.
Equally important is to focus on quick-impact initiatives to create employment opportunities for the Afghan youth in general as a measure to not only tackle the brain drain, but also utilize this vast and important human capital Afghanistan has with over 65 percent of its population being under the age of 25 years.
Such measures could include prioritized hiring of the youth into the civil service, a combination of large-scale and small, community based development projects, subsidized agricultural projects, low-interest and Islamic Sharia compliant loans for small businesses etc
What more can be done to improve the situation?
I believe the economic and security transitions are still at their early stages, despite all the improvements in economic growth and the capacity of the Afghan security forces. In order for Afghanistan to build on improved security institutions, education, health, human rights, infrastructure and economy, the country certainly requires a long-term commitment from the international community.
Only with a responsible, gradual and needs-based decline in donor support, will Afghanistan achieve its full potential and become a progressive developing country.
Abdullah Ahmadzai is The Asia Foundation's Country Representative in Afghanistan.