Insights and Analysis

Afghanistan’s Youth: A Bargain That Must Succeed

November 18, 2015

By Abdullah Ahmadzai

A massive government campaign is underway in Afghanistan right now to prevent brain drain, employing social media tactics and glossy advertising to discourage the country’s ambitious young people from fleeing in droves to Europe and elsewhere. On Tuesday, President Ashraf Ghani announced a new national employment program that he said would help generate jobs and boost confidence in the economy. According to the United Nations, more than 120,000 Afghans applied for asylum in 44 countries between January and August 2015. The Afghan Passport Office has processed record numbers of new passports, more than 2,000 a day, for Afghans seeking to leave the country.

Afghan youth

Nearly half of Afghanistan’s population is under 18, making it one of the largest youth bulges in the world. Photo/Gulbuddin Elham

The journey for these Afghans is often perilous, and they are increasingly vulnerable to dubious human traffickers looking to profit. Nearly half of Afghanistan’s population is under 18, making it one of the largest youth bulges in the world. For the government and the nation’s future, this bargain with the youth must succeed.

The reasons young Afghans are leaving vary, but dominating concerns are rising unemployment, lack of opportunity, and a deteriorating economy. Against this backdrop and amid a difficult post-election transition under a fledgling unity government, The Asia Foundation’s just-released Survey of the Afghan People reveals a similar nationwide anxiety about these and other challenges.

The annual Survey of the Afghan People, the country’s broadest and most comprehensive public opinion poll, with 9,586 Afghans, 50.6 percent male and 49.4 percent female, interviewed face-to-face this year across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, provides insight into the views of citizens on issues central to the country’s development. Conducted in June 2015, nine months after Afghanistan formed its first-ever National Unity Government under President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, this year’s survey conveys major changes in national mood from last year’s survey conducted in June 2014, when optimism was high weeks after the first runoff election and prior to the controversial ballot recount by the Independent Election Commission.

The 2015 survey reveals Afghans expect more from their new government; respondents report a sharp decline in satisfaction with government institutions. And this past week, Afghans turned out in the tens of thousands to protest the government’s inability to deal with militants, after the beheadings of seven people from the Hazara ethnic minority by ISIS. More than two-thirds of Afghans report they fear for their personal safety, the highest percentage in a decade. This year in a new question, 74 percent of Afghans say they have heard of ISIS and more than half of them say the group poses a threat to the security of their district.


While the overall refrain is no doubt sobering, there are points of optimism, including progress in the delivery of basic services, which the government announced as one of its top priorities within days of taking the oath of office, and an increasing awareness of women’s rights and access to information.

Below are other key findings:

  • This year, the most commonly cited problems facing youth are unemployment (71.4%), illiteracy (26.5%), a poor economy (15.9%), lack of higher education opportunities (15.3%), and drug addiction (14.2%).
  • Nationwide, 36.7 percent nationwide say their country is moving in the right direction, down from 54.7 percent in 2014. This represents the lowest level of optimism recorded over the past 10 years, following last year’s record high during the presidential runoff election.
  • AfghanPollMigrationThe most frequently cited national problem is insecurity (42.7%), up from 34.1 percent in 2014 and at its highest level since 2007. The most frequently cited local-level problem is unemployment (31.2%).
  • When asked about a range of public services, Afghans report the highest level of satisfaction (71.8%) with access to drinking water, and a majority of people in 13 provinces say they are satisfied with road infrastructure, while a majority in the remaining 21 provinces say they are not satisfied.
  • Starting in 2011, the survey has asked respondents if they would leave Afghanistan if given the opportunity. This year, 39.9 percent of Afghans say yes, an increase from 33.8 percent in 2011; 57.9 percent say no.
  • Respondents report a sharp decline in their satisfaction with nearly all types of government institutions. The proportion of Afghans who say that the national government is doing a good job has fallen from 75.3 percent in 2014 to 57.8 percent in 2015.
  • 89.9 percent of Afghans say that corruption is a problem in their daily lives, the highest percentage reported in a decade.
  • Two-thirds of Afghans say women should be allowed to work outside the home, including 72.9 percent of women and 53.8 percent of men. This percentage has slowly declined over time, from a high of 70.9 percent in 2006. The percentage of respondents who say women contribute to the family/household income has steadily increased from 13.6 percent in 2009 to 22.6 percent in 2015.
  • Nationwide, 50.1 percent of respondents say that women should decide on their own when making voting decisions, 27.4 percent say women should consult with men, and 21.9 percent say men should decide for women.
  • A majority (82.3%) of respondents report owning one or more mobile phones in their household, up from 41.5 percent in 2007. One-fifth of respondents nationwide report having someone in their household who has access to the internet. Radio remains the most widely used mean of obtaining news and information in Afghanistan (75.7%), followed by television (61.6%), mobile phones (50.3%), the mosque (48.3%), and community shuras (37.4%). Over time, reliance on television and the internet for information has gradually increased.

Download the full 2015 Survey of the Afghan People on The Asia Foundation’s website, and read further coverage here

Abdullah Ahmadzai is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.


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