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Disillusioned, many young Afghans try to find jobs overseas sometimes with tragic results. In April, on the border with Pakistan, 62 young Afghans were found suffocated to death in a shipping container stuffed with some 100 illegal migrants. They had been bound for Iran. The estimated number of illegal migrants fleeing Afghanistan last year was 600,000 nearly double the number in 2006. According to Basir, a human trafficker who asked that his full name not be used, most of the migrants are young and educated "middle class, with enough money to pay me but not enough to live without a job." Though business is good for him the going rate to Turkey is $6,000, Europe up to $15,000 Basir is ambivalent about the exodus: "If the youth are leaving, that means there is no future for Afghanistan."
The needless deaths of so many young Afghans has sparked nationwide soul-searching and inspired at least one young Afghan to do something. At 20 years old, Sayed Hussain Fakhri is the youngest Afghan running for a seat on the Kabul provincial council, a position similar to that of a state congressman in the U.S. "There is no excuse for men to be going away and dying for jobs," says Fakhri. That's what made me think I should run for office, to see if I could change that."
Because so many young Afghans feel that the government has failed them, some are taking control of their future and helping other youths in the process. Moby Group is Afghanistan's most influential broadcaster, having created a hugely popular local version of American Idol called Afghan Star as well as a program in which young Afghans argue, through debates, about why they should hold high office. CEO Mohseni chalks up Moby's success to its emphasis on young personnel: he reckons the average age of his 600 employees is 24. "They are a generation with fresh ideas," he says. "If [this generation is] earning an income and is engaged and involved, you have a better chance of moving the whole country forward."
Hope amid Despair
In Afghanistan, it is often said that the definition of Taliban (which literally means students) is "young man without a job." The Taliban, points out 23-year-old Moby manager Yosuf Shabir Mohseni (no relation to Jahid), started as a youth movement frustrated with injustices during the civil war of the early 1990s injustices that Yosuf Mohseni feels still abound. "It just doesn't seem like the government is paying attention to what is really needed to fix this country," he says. "If young people are left in the dark, what do you think will happen in 10 years? The Taliban." Most young Afghans interviewed for this story believe the best and simplest way to defeat the militants is to give idle youth gainful employment. "We want to feel like we are part of society, that we can contribute and that our voices can be heard," says Kosar. "When you don't find that in normal life, you look elsewhere."
Twenty-year-old Shafiq Shah is an extreme example of that. He was arrested after his explosives-laden Toyota failed to detonate near his intended target: four foreigners working for an aid organization. Shah has spent the past several months in Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi prison, where he was eventually moved to an isolation wing because of his aggressive proselytizing. He is intelligent, charismatic and wholly dedicated to the downfall of the current government. While he says the Afghan leadership isn't sufficiently Islamic, the real target of his rage is what he considers an absence of justice: "Afghanistan is a society where men rape children and go free. In the Taliban time, if they arrested a robber, they would kill him. If a butcher was cheating his customers, they would cut off his fingers."
Though Shah is a radical, literature student Zohab sees his point. After being denied an education for so long under the Taliban regime, she is finally able to pursue her dream of getting a degree by taking night courses while working at the Kabul Museum. Still, she says, she suffers periodic harassment as she enters and leaves the campus. She has been called names, threatened, even beaten. Appeals to the police never help. These days she goes to school only if her father or brother can drop her off. "I love Afghanistan," she says, "but sometimes I feel like I hate Afghans. Even if the economy improves and there are jobs after graduation, it is worth nothing if we [women] don't feel safe."
A constant sense of insecurity coupled with a chronic lack of opportunity: Afghanistan seems a nation in perpetual crisis, with no respite for young and old. But it is in the nature of youth to be optimistic, and Yosuf Mohseni, for one, finds hope in the coming election. "I do see a future, provided we choose the right person," he says. "If I can influence one person and he influences one person, we can all change. Who does the country have but us?"