It’s been nearly two weeks since a group of more than 40 recent university graduates began a protest in front of the Afghan Parliament. Through the scorching heat of the the day and the increasingly bitter cold of the nights, through rain and dust storms, out in the open, without any shelter, they remain. Their demand is simple: “We want jobs.”
“We are not asking for ourselves, we are standing to defend the rights of the youth all over Afghanistan,” said Hussain Beenash, one of the protesters. “The government has received millions of dollars in aid from foreign countries, but, due to the lack of sound management, it did not help to solve the problems of the people, especially the youth.”
Beenash, like the other protesters, is unemployed, and he is getting desperate.
“The police have threatened to arrest us, so we chained ourselves together,” he said. “We wanted to pitch tents, but they would not allow us to.”
The protest began September 7; the students say they will stay until the government addresses their concerns.
Member of Parliament Baktash Syawash sympathizes with the graduates. Years of war have impoverished the country, he pointed out, and lack of opportunity is forcing many to leave Afghanistan.
“I went to see (the protesters) and I will do my best to transfer their message to the government,” he said. “Their protest is legal and I heartily support them.”
Afghanistan’s economy has undergone a rapid decline in the past few years. The departure of foreign troops and the formal end of the US combat mission have meant less money coming into the country, fewer international contracts, and fewer jobs. The billions in aid that have poured into Afghanistan have had limited effect, and Afghans now coming out of universities face diminishing prospects.
The young people gathered in front of Parliament are angry and they want the government to solve their problems. But the government itself is in trouble: according to sources close to Paiwandgah, government employees have not been paid in three months.
One bright point in the protest: This group is not divided by the ethnic and regional animosities that plague much of the rest of the country.
“Our strike is not limited to any specific tribe, it is a national event,” said Asfandyar Awesta, another unemployed protester. “We are here to find a better solution for the problems of young people.”
The protesters have surrounded themselves with signs and posters.
“We are neither Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara nor Uzbek, we are jobless!” read one. “The government is sick, that’s why youth are unemployed,” said another.
So far the protest has had limited results. Many government officials and MPs have come to visit the group, but they have brought nothing concrete with them.
“The Minister and Deputy Minister of Labor, Social Affairs Martyrs and Disabled came to visit us, but due to lack of a clear strategy they could do nothing,” said Ramin Azimi, another protester.
Naqibullah Fayeq, a member of the Parliamentary commission dealing with health, youth and labor, promised action.
“I, along with many other Parliament members visited (the protesters) and asked them what they wanted, after that I delivered a statement to the Parliament and asked the members to call in some of the ministers and consult with them on the issue,” said Fayeq.
This coming Saturday the ministers of Public Health, Narcotics, and Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled will come to the Parliament to discuss the issue.
Fayeq said that the protesters’ action is legal, but it will take a long time to solve this problem.
The young people are prepared to wait.
“We will continue our protest — we don’t care whether it’s seven months, eight months, a year — we will continue,” said Sultana Haideri, one of the protesters. “We are here to solve our problems, and we will continue our protest until we get a satisfactory reply from the officials.”
Next week Afghanistan will celebrate one of islam’s biggest holidays, Eid al Adha. But instead of celebrating with family and friends, the protesters will remain in front of the Parliament.
“The minister who visited us said that they cannot accept the issue as a crisis because they have many other important things to do,” said Haideri. “Some of the Parliament members promised that they will establish a commission and will send our declaration to the ministers’ council after Eid. So we will remain on strike. Then we’ll see what will happens.”