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Lack of jobs hurting Afghan war on Taliban

TIRIN KOT: The new, white Australian-built Trade Training School of Tirin Kot is spotless, pristine and tucked safely away behind blast walls in the middle of a massive military camp in southern Afghanistan.


UNEMPLOYED: Afghans wait for daily work as labourers in Kabul. Afghanistan’s jobless rate is about 40 percent. Many more are underemployed working only a few hours a week or seasonally. - Reuters

With machinegun practice in the background and helicopters training overhead, it is at once a symbol of the progress being made despite the worst fighting since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and the long way still to go to bring peace.

At the opening ceremony, a local mullah and the mayor at once complained of security and praised the school for offering young men hope and an alternative to joining the Taliban.

NATO, U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders agree without economic progress, without reconstruction and without new jobs the Taliban insurgency cannot be defeated. Poverty is driving people into the arms of the Taliban.

"Most of these people are now people who are completely idle," said government adviser and former minister Hamidullah Tarzi. "There are miles and miles of nothing to do.

"Look at the embassies - so many people are waiting there to get a visa. And they know that when they go to Iran they will be given third-class treatment. They will be given nothing almost, just very, very low paid, ill-treated. But still it shows the desperation.

"More social work has to be done, and this itself would be a catalyst towards improving the whole conditions.

There won't be much desire for violence. Slowly it will lessen and lessen to a degree where it could be controllable."

Afghanistan's jobless rate is about 40 percent. Many more are underemployed - working only a few hours a week or seasonally.

'Breaking point'

"While the Afghan economy and private sector continues to grow, many ordinary Afghans are frustrated with their economic situation," the U.S.-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies said in a recent report "Breaking Point".

"They suffer from unsteady employment and economic insecurity, and are turning to illicit and illegal activity, such as corruption and (opium) poppy production, to meet immediate needs.

"The Taliban has become an alternative source of employment, recruiting the jobless as foot soldiers in the insurgency." Most days, long queues of men wait outside the Iranian and Pakistani embassies in Kabul, waiting patiently for work visas.

In other parts of the city and around the country, knots of men gather at determined locations waiting for day work as labourers, hoping to be picked out of the crowd by employers.

These men often go the entire winter without work because construction stops. When they do work, they earn around $2 a day.

'A total lie'

"The government gave us good news that they will provide us a job and a house, that is why we returned," said 25-year-old Zamira, who returned from Iran, as she waited for work with husband Hussein Ali, 35, at a Kabul roundabout.

"But now there is no job and no house.

"Life is very difficult because there is no job to feed our family. A labourer works three months a year and earns 150 Afghanis ($3) a day - what can he buy with it? Flour, oil or other things that we need for living? We are 13 people." Zamira weaves carpets to help feed the family.

"Life is miserable," added her husband. The kids are weaving carpet - they cannot go to school, they cannot study.

"Even the carpet money is not enough. what happened to the aid that the international community donated? Where has the aid gone? We haven't seen anything, it is a total lie." (Additional reporting by Yousuf Azimy)

Reuters

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