Poverty pushing youth into arms of Taliban?

Abdul Malik, aged 17, joined Taliban insurgents in the south after two Taliban supporters gave him a mobile phone. A short while later his dead body was brought to his family.

"He was killed in a military operation near Musa Qala District [Helmand Province]," Malik's older brother told IRIN in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province.

"In our district many young guys join Taliban ranks for pocket money, a mobile phone or other financial incentives," said Safiullah, a resident of Sangeen District in Helmand.

Helmand Province has seen considerable insurgency-related violence - hundreds have died in suicide attacks, roadside explosions and military operations over the past few months.

High levels of rural poverty or unemployment are probably helping to drive young people like Malik to join the Taliban.

Due to insecurity in the southern provinces there are no available unemployment figures. However, a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission on the social and economic rights of Afghans estimated that in some parts of the country the unemployment rate was as high as 60 percent.

Another reason why there are so many rural poor is the fact that agriculture, which employs over 60 percent of the estimated 26.6 million population, has received only US$300-400 million of the over US$15 billion of international development aid given to Afghanistan since 2002, Oxfam International reported in January.


Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
A young would-be suicide bomber arrested in Lashkar Gah. Poverty, unemployment and disenfranchisement with the Afghan Government drive many young people into the hands of insurgents, experts say

Senlis Council report

"The government [of Afghanistan] lacks the funds to provide for its citizens and is unable to create sustainable job opportunities for a large proportion of the population. Therefore, the south is a rapidly growing recruitment ground for the Taliban," the Senlis Council, a London-based international policy think tank, said in a report in February 2008.

"Where the government is failing to provide basic services, often the Taliban are filling the gap with more radical alternatives. This means that sought-after trust from the Afghan people is going to the radical militants rather than the elected government," said the report Afghanistan – Decision Point 2008.

"Research undertaken by The Senlis Council since 2005 shows conclusively that aid destined for the south is not reaching the people," the report said.

High expectations frustrated

Edward Girardet, a commentator on humanitarian issues and a programme director for the Geneva-based Media21 Global Journalism Network, told IRIN that immediately after the demise of the Taliban regime Afghans had high expectations for a rapid rebuilding of their country and a positive change in their living conditions.

However, six years on there is an enormous amount of frustration, "particularly among young Pashtuns who have returned from Pakistan [where there is strong Taliban influence in Islamic schools] only to find no jobs," he said.

According to Girardet, Oxfam and others, billions in aid to the war-torn country have been misused and/or mismanaged, and have produced only limited results.

IMF report

However, an alternative view is provided by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report, which said the war-torn country had maintained strong economic growth in the past six years and per capita gross domestic product had increased by 53 percent from $200 in 2001 to $306 in 2007.

"Real growth rates have ranged from 26 percent in 2002/03 to 14 percent in 2005/06," said the IMF's Afghanistan: Poverty Reduction Progress Report 2008, released on 20 February.

Is more military spending the answer?

To curb the insurgency some donors have demanded an increase in the number of NATO troops.


Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
Some experts say donors should increase their developmental assistance to Afghanistan and create sustainable job opportunities for young people in order to tackle the Taliban's insurgency

In addition to over 10,000 mostly US forces fighting Taliban insurgents there are over 33,000 NATO troops, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

To defeat Taliban insurgents the US military spends $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan ($35 billion for 2007), Oxfam International said.

However, aid agencies and some experts doubt an increase in military spending will end the growing violence in Afghanistan: "There are no military solutions to Afghanistan, so rather than spending so massively on keeping NATO troops in the country, more money should be used towards resolving this long-term and critical challenge," Girardet said.

Girardet's assertion was echoed by, Obaidullah, a resident of Kajaki District in Helmand Province. "All we want is a job - to earn some money and support our families."

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