I was in a restaurant at the bus terminal of Kandahar, waiting for the bus. Buses to Kabul leave Kandahar almost after midnight and people wait for the bus in the restaurants at the bus terminal. Heat of June had come in its worst form to Kandahar and the weather was hot and suffocating. As I entered the restaurant, I felt strong smell of stinking socks and clothes and of perspiration. There were present more than a dozen middle-aged men, who appeared in their worst conditions. Their clothes were dirty, and they seemed not to have taken shower for many days and continuous perspiration had made them appear really ugly and disgusting. They all had a bag, big or small, and looked as if they had returned from a long journey or were leaving to one. Anyhow, I decided to sit among them and get some information. After some casual greeting and routine discussions, they told me that they had gone to Iran for work, where they were caught and were expelled out of the border and thrown into a border city. They then travelled for many days to reach Kandahar and now they were heading to their houses in the north of the country.
Later on, I noticed a lot many other groups who were having bags with them and were going to either Iran or Pakistan in search of jobs as they had failed to find a job in Afghanistan and continuous joblessness had compelled to take this extreme step in order to support their families.
This extreme step is accompanied with a lot many troubles; financial, physical, and of course emotional or psychological. There is always present a threat of being shot or caught on the way or imprisoned or tortured by the security forces. When, anyhow, they make to their destination to the other country, they may not be able to get their due rights from the person whom they are working for. On the way back, their earnings might be snatched by the security forces or by the robbers or thieves. They remain in constant strain because of numerous other problems. These are the problems associated with those who try to go to other country by illegal means. If they want to get visa and take a legal path, they face numerous other problems while getting visa and completing other documental requirements.
One gets surprised why people go through all these difficulties, risking their lives, dignity and peace of mind and head to the strange lands, with numerous unpredicted problems. This brings to us numerous other problems inside the country that might have slipped out of our notice. In Kabul, there plenty of jobs for unskilled or illiterate people, but every day, most of the foreign projects and offices are winding up their projects and thus more and more people are losing their jobs. In the past one year, dwellers of capital have witnessed increasing trend in the shortage of unskilled jobs and people looking for such jobs. It is the reason why that we see a lot many small businesses or shops (like burger, sandwich and chips sellers etc.) are swelling like mushrooms in almost all the streets and corners of the city and more and more unemployed people look to find a source of earning to their families. Increasing number of taxi and van drivers in the city also depict the same hard fact.
Situation is even worse in the rural areas. With no sources of shops, commercial plazas or other jobs, people can only earn from the agriculture which is under extreme pressure due to the numerous reasons. Means of production like urea, water, electricity, tractor etc. are very expensive and the end product turns out to be very expensive to the farmer. For instance, wheat harvested locally is more expensive comparing to the wheat imported from Pakistan or Tajikistan and this leads to a situation when local merchants don’t buy the locally produced agricultural products and resort to the imported ones. In the end, when farmer fails to sell his product, he definitely decreases his prices and as a result, at times, fails to recover his expenses, leave aside the possibility of earning something extra. This has forced many people to quit their traditional work of farming and lands and look for other alternate sources of income.
A frightening picture comes when we see that almost all of our goods and commodities are imported and thus most or almost all of our foreign exchange is drained out by the neighboring countries like Iran, China, Pakistan, Japan, Central Asian countries and some of the countries of Europe and of course America. Till now, the number of industries established and working inside the country is very less and they are also striving to keep their existence. Heavy taxes, corruption, lack of infrastructure and energy and power, lack of cooperation by the government ministries and institutions in any such venture are some of the reasons that make the establishment of a new business very difficult. It is the reason why very few industries have been established in the country since the establishment of democratic government and thus very less jobs have been developed in the industrial sector. As discussed above, agricultural sector is also under intense pressure so at present only services sector is working properly where people have jobs in unskilled works or clerical posts but of course this sector is not enough to provide sufficient number of jobs to all the citizens.
Unemployment and lack of proper sources of income have forced the people to go to any extent; be it legal or illegal. Increasing crime rate is also one of the consequences in which people, being jobless and frustrated for a long time, resort to this final option available to them. The jobs that once used to pay good salaries have greatly reduced their salaries but even then increasing unemployment leave the people with no other option except to accept whatever is available.
It has been observed that Madrasas (Institutes of religious education) are also popular in the general public just because of the sole reason that there, children from poor families are provided with free food, education and shelter. Very recently, it was unfortunate to discover that there were some people who opened institutes in the name of Madrasa where children from poor families were enrolled and later on given military training for terrorist activities. No doubt, all the Madrasas are not like this but of course there have been reports of such institutes where poor children were brainwashed and misused for such anti-state activities.
In the end, government is requested to facilitate and encourage the establishment of new industries so that more and more people should get the jobs inside the country and should have earning to live a decent life.
Mahmood Hassan Quraishi is a permanent writer of the Afghanistan Daily Express.