Insights and Analysis

Q&A with Head of Afghanistan’s Largest News Operation

December 5, 2018

Lotfullah Najafizada leads TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s largest (and most popular) news operation and its first 24-hour news channel. An award-winning journalist, Najafizada has been named a next-generation leader by Time Magazine and one of Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” Asian influencers in media in 2017. Our chief communications officer Amy Ovalle asked Najafizada to help navigate some of the findings in this year’s Survey of the Afghan People.

As a journalist, is the Survey of the Afghan People helpful to you?

Lotfullah Najafizada

The Survey of the Afghan People is indeed the best annual study of Afghanistan, and it serves as a reference for so many people, including journalists. We use it not just when it’s out, at the end of the year, but throughout the year as a reference on the many topics it covers.

Afghanistan has been a mix of positive and negative stories—many negative in the Western media—making it hard to paint a simple picture of the country. As someone who covers Afghanistan, are there key indicators that interest you in this year’s Survey?

The fact that nearly two-thirds of the Afghan people remain negative about the future of the country is alarming and, indeed, telling as well. Let’s not forget that the data collection this year happened during the peak season for positive developments. I’m also very interested to see that the people’s trust in the reliability of the media is growing, which is positive news.

This year, 62% of respondents report experiencing fear while voting, up from 52% in 2017. Yet, people turned out for the recent, long-delayed parliamentary elections. Confidence in the IEC is up from 38% last year to 43% this year, satisfaction with democracy is up from 57% to 61%, and 52% said they believed the October elections would be free and fair. Are we seeing an enduring commitment to democracy?

The voting segment of the Afghan population is getting younger and younger. Some of the people who just voted for the first time in their lives were born just before 9/11 and don’t remember the Taliban regime. The people of Afghanistan have no other choice than supporting our fragile democracy.With every election, the belief in democratic values is growing and strengthening, and although the last elections were nowhere close to perfect, Afghans showed great resilience and commitment by turning out to vote in millions.

More people own televisions this year, and cell phone ownership has reached a new high, yet 34% say their household financial situation has gotten worse, compared to 10% in 2007. Can you give some context on people’s mood about the economy and opportunity?

The mood is that the economic situation has gone down, but some projects, such as TAPI, the 1,800-kilometer Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-India Pipeline, or the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (which was announced during the Survey data collection) might have helped improve public perceptions. TAPI is expected to create jobs and bring in gas and significant resources in annual transit duties to Afghanistan.

Afghan women’s lives have improved significantly since the Taliban were ousted, but women continue to face problems, particularly with economic issues. Most Afghans (70%) agree women should be allowed to work outside the home, and the majority (84%) said women should have the same opportunities as men in education. Acceptance of baad and baddal is declining, and acceptance of miras is going up. But there are clearly still constraints on women in Afghanistan. Is it your sense that women are making gains?

Afghanistan is still one of the worst places for women, but it’s changing because of changes in the culture and, to an extent, the situation. You see more young women in the streets of Kabul and major cities who are successful and ambitious, who are decision-makers in their own lives, running businesses and NGOs and working in the government. Let me stress, however, that the situation for women is still nowhere close to being acceptable.

Lotfullah Najafizada is the director of Afghanistan’s TOLOnews. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewee, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Afghanistan
Related programs: Survey of the Afghan People


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