Among the many problems Afghanistan is grappling with, unemployment continues to be one of the gravest. According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, around 3.5 million persons in the country, who otherwise should be engaged in some sort of gainful employment, are unemployed. Officials from the same ministry have said that the actual level of unemployment in Afghanistan is more than 50%.
Other statistics by the International Labor Organization has put the level of unemployment in Afghanistan at 30%. However, the actual unemployment figures are indeed as high as the levels announced by the ministry officials given the extent of destruction of Afghanistan's economy over the past three decades and also the prevalence of disguised unemployment where employed people are not employed in professions for which they have been trained.
The menace of unemployment is the direct cause of much of the widespread poverty that exists in the country and has continued to ruin lives and families. It is also the direct cause of many other social ills such as drug addiction, crime, murder, robbery and burglaries and the ongoing armed militancy against the government and international forces.
In the last case, as reported by many sources and admitted to by government officials, unemployment in many areas of the country drives the young men to fall in the trap of armed groups such as Taliban and other criminal groups which continue to kill, rob, plunder, extort, kidnap and fight against the government. In such rural areas where there is little in the way of jobs and livelihoods for the young people, the lure of joining these armed groups in the hopes of reaching wealth and power is strong.
More than three decades of war and conflict has resulted in destruction of a large part of the country's economy. Prior to the onset of wars in the 60s and 70s, Afghanistan's predominantly agrarian economy was able to support the population. A great majority of the population lived in villages and rural areas and the agricultural economy was able to provide them with livelihoods.
The manufacturing industries set up in Kabul and other areas of the country also provided employment to a large section of urban population. Afghanistan's middle class was growing and employment and livelihoods were at hand for the needy.
However, now and after a decade of the new start for Afghanistan, unemployment continues to be a major problem in both urban and rural areas in the midst of an economic and social crisis. Apart from the effects of years of civil war and conflict on Afghanistan's economy which has led to the staggering unemployment we see today, the influx of refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran is another reason for the soaring rates of unemployment. The educational system in the country with its poor quality has not been able equip its graduates with the kind of knowledge and skills required for employment.
In order to reduce the current staggering levels of unemployment and to be able to provide gainful employment to millions of unemployed persons and reduce the widespread poverty, job and employment opportunities need to be created. Creation of jobs and employment opportunities in sufficient numbers is in turn closely tied to the status of the country's economy.
A growing economy where the size of the economy measured in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increases year after year would generate jobs and reduce the severity of the problem. Afghanistan's economy needs to be reconstructed in many of its sectors through providing security as well as providing investment by the government, the international community and the Afghan and foreign private sector.
The manufacturing sector which includes industries form the backbone of every economy in today's world. In recent years, many of the old industries from decades ago remain neglected and have not been reconstructed. In addition to the reconstruction and up-gradation of these industries, new investments in new sectors and manufacturing industries should be pursued by the government of Afghanistan on a priority basis.
As a finance professional who has worked in India's stock exchanges, equities markets and financial sector, I can clearly see the miracle of economic growth in reducing unemployment and poverty in India. Why should not Afghanistan embark on a similar path? Complaining and whining about the widespread unemployment is pointless when we and the government do not take effective steps to fundamentally reconstruct the country's industries and develop the economy by building new industries and creating a vibrant services sector.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has been running vocational programs to train the youth and place them in those small and medium enterprises which need trained and skilled workforce. The achievements of the Ministry have been notable in recent years as it has successfully placed thousands of young people into some sort of a gainful employment for themselves and their families.
But these activities by this ministry and other vocational training institutes of the government easily fade away in the face of the magnitude of the problem. When there are millions of unemployed, giving jobs to a few thousand of them solves very little of the problem.
The Government of Afghanistan should adopt a concerted effort with a long-term, strategic vision in order to lessen the severity of the problem. Long-term planning at the national level by the government and linking the employment generation programs with the long-term economic development plans devised by the government and its international partners are mandatory.
While these are long-term plans, over the short-term, extending the vocational programs to all needy populations and providing security would work to bring jobs to many of the desperate unemployed.