Afghanistan continues to face intense challenges on all fronts. But the perseverance of the Afghan people, with international support, has produced the best-educated generation in recent history—with an immense appetite for both sustainable peace and progress. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is working with local and international partners to ensure this new talent generates and seizes opportunities at home and helps (re-)build their country.
“Should I stay, or should I go?” This is a common dilemma among young Afghans, both those at home wondering whether to leave, and the hundreds of thousands born, raised, and living abroad contemplating whether to take the journey to Afghanistan and put their skills to work there to build a better future for themselves and their country.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has been working to engage and develop local talent since 2004 via its Young Leaders Forum. “Alumni are now ministers, ambassadors and civil society leaders,” said FES Resident Representative Magdalena Kirchner, who is preparing the 15th anniversary of the forum this year. “Most importantly, they still reach out to their peers and remain open and responsive to the needs of their constituents.”
The first generation of YLF alumni has started to take over responsibility for the country in politics, business, arts and civil society and today, the YLF network includes more than 300 young Afghans. It will be up to them to build peace, good governance and economic opportunities for everyone. Although major challenges persist for the people of Afghanistan in all those areas, with the number of students enrolled in higher education having risen from 24,000 in 2002 to 300,000 in 2019 and an impressive motivation for change, there is vast potential for engaging the next generation in the political development of the country.
And yet, many of the country’s finest young minds are using their skills to seek opportunities elsewhere. Attempts to reverse the brain drain have been undermined by persistent insecurity and a lack of reforms, for example to end corruption. Among those who have left the country, at least in part permanently, are also numerous YLF alumni but FES provides a constant platform of exchange for them and their peers inside the country and around the world
With no fewer than four elections coming up this autumn, and negotiations still ongoing for an end to some 40 years of civil war, international military interventions, and insurgency, Afghans have a lot to discuss! To enable also those who have not yet been offered a seat at the negotiation table, including residents of more remote areas, a chance to inform and express their own ideas, FES supports the initiative titled The Public Voice on Peace Negotiations.
The project is led by the Afghanistan Policy Group, a group of leading civil society representatives, decision makers, scholars and journalists that FES convened for the first time in 2012 to promote sustainable peace through an enhanced dialogue between Afghanistan and its neighbours and between decision makers and the wider public.
The interest in this project has been truly overwhelming: Nearly 600 people from all walks of Afghan life took part in meetings in the provinces of Balkh, Bamyan, Nangarhar, Kandahar and Herat, including young people, women, religious scholars, tribal elders, academics, civil society activists and media officials. The discussions were not limited to power-sharing schemes between the government and Taliban insurgents, and explored concrete possibilities for sustainable societal peace in Afghanistan, covering economic development, security, education, justice, ethnic and religious coexistence and regional stability. Accompanying the high-level negotiation efforts, where Germany’s role is increasing steadily, projects like these contribute to local confidence building and inclusion—both essential for the implementation and sustainability of any future agreement.
“Implementing the FES global mandate in Afghanistan under the current circumstances is not easy but is a highly rewarding task,” Kirchner says, describing the fragile security situation especially in Kabul, and the consequent restrictions on international organizations. “When I see pictures of my predecessors chatting with guests in our garden and hear stories about team excursions to the swimming lake, it certainly feels like a long-gone past,” she said, referring to the significant changes of the Kabul office to address security needs.
“We have to be extremely well organized and plan weeks ahead to manage a wide number of security risks for us and our partners. At the same time we have to be creative and flexible, as events can be moved or even cancelled at less than a day’s notice. But what keeps us always motivated is the impressive resilience and passion of our colleagues, partners and counterparts constantly and unflappably adjusting to these challenges.”
Afghanistan has changed since FES started operations in the country in 2002, but the organization’s aims and objectives have become ever more relevant. Together with local partners, FES continues to inject questions of social justice, women’s empowerment and the needs of local communities including refugees into political discussions often dominated by hard security concerns. Facilitating dialogue and meaningful exchange both between Kabul and rural areas and between Afghanistan and its neighbours continues to be a core theme for FES work—with the help of the young generation for many years to come!
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