Apathy Among the Educated

A “fair and transparent election,” even if one were possible, would not be enough to set Afghanistan on a path toward stability. Only when democracy is combined with a legitimate process of truth and justice will we achieve peace.

Most educated Afghans, a small but important minority of the population, will not vote because they believe there is no candidate worth voting for. The other day the marketing manager for my company’s factory in Kabul told me that he and 10 friends had discussed it and decided not to vote.

“All the development has been done by private companies and nongovernmental groups,” he explained. “Government has not done much. We are protesting. They should have created jobs. Youths are suffering. If the youths were busy working, there would be no war or corruption. The candidates say they will fix the roads or create jobs, but how? Talk is cheap.”

It’s not only the present government that he finds lacking. He pointedly criticized two of President Hamid Karzai’s challengers — Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, and Abdul Jabar Sabit, a former attorney general. “They say, ‘We will bring foreign investors’ — but how will they improve security?” he asked. “The election is a mere formality.”

Another colleague added: “The candidates talk about donors’ funding as if everything is dependent on funding or they won’t be able to do it. We have lots of resources in Afghanistan, like gas and oil in Sheberghan Province. These things can put many people to work so we don’t have to be dependent on donor’s funding, but no one has any solid plan.”

Another problem with this “free” election is that the votes of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran will be lost. Five years ago, in our first presidential vote, most Afghans in neighboring countries were able to vote, but this year there is no such mechanism in place. It is unfair to say that there haven’t been obvious improvements since 2001. Our currency is stronger. We did not have any real telecommunications system, and there were only the government-controlled TV and radio stations, which were not even functioning. Today we have five phone companies, and around a dozen each of TV and radio stations. Thousands of miles of roads have been built, millions of children are going to school, thousands of Afghans are joining the Army and police forces daily and, most important, we finally have electricity around the clock.

But the big question is why, despite all this development, has the insurgency increased and faith in the government deteriorated?

In part it stems from too much “cosmetic development” and a lack of employment and basic services, like garbage collection. But the main cause is that people lost trust in the government for lack of a proper and transparent justice system. Out of desperation, many young Afghans either leave the country for Iran or Pakistan to seek employment or join the extremists.

Thus, in addition to democracy and accountability, Afghans need a truth and justice process like that of South Africa. Afghan leaders, through all our wars, need to admit their errors and atrocities, and apologize to the Afghan people. War criminals need to withdraw from politics. We also need to protect and empower Afghan women, and prosecute those who have abused and betrayed them.

Afghanistan’s collective psyche is scarred, and when emotional traumas are not dealt with properly, they inevitably lead to violence. Even a free and fair election is no substitute for justice.

Hassina Sherjan, the president of Boumi, a manufacturer of decorative products for the home, and the director of Aid Afghanistan for Education, a nonprofit group.