The young Afghans fighting for change

Shaharzad Akbar – image source: Ben Gurr for The Times

TMP – 14/08/2017
Sixteen years after the Taliban regime was toppled, Afghanistan has made substantial progress in securing women’s right and providing better education and health care for its citizens. Yet bomb attacks are still a regular occurrence, killing scores of civilians across the country.

However, a growing number of young and educated Afghans are determined to put an end to the civil war and are fighting for fundamental changes in their country.

One such person is Muslim Shirzad, the 27-year-old chancellor of Kabul Jahan-E-Noor University. As the host of a prominent political show on Tolo TV for six years, Muslim Shirzad has also become a media star who used his interviews to challenge powerful political figures.

“I have traveled in 50 countries, but ultimately I wanted to be here. Europe is good for Europeans, Australia is good for Australians, and Afghanistan is good for us,” Shirzad says.

At Jahan-E-Noor University women and men are allowed to sit together in the lecture hall. The university has a journalism programme and will soon add a political science and economics department.

Basira Joya is studying journalism at Jahan-e-Noor University. She is also news presenter on Zan TV, a new TV channel dedicated to women, and uses her salary to pay for her tuition fees and other expenses.
“I want to give a voice to women whose voices have been stifled,” she explains.

Another young activist is Shahrzad Akbar, who holds a master’s degree in development studies from Oxford University. Akbar is the co-founder of a group called Afghanistan 1400, a movement of young, well-educated Afghans who campaign for putting an end to the civil war in the country.

The other founder of the group, Abdul Ali Shamsi, the deputy governor of Kandahar, was killed by a bomb attack earlier in the year.

Speaking about the killing of her friend Akbar says: “At the moment, I hated that man [from the Taliban] from the bottom of my heart, because it was the Taliban that had killed my friend. But that is precisely the point: we need to stop hating.”
She believes that even Taliban fighters are exhausted after 16 years of fighting and yearn for peace. “This murderous frenzy has to stop,” Akbar says.

The activists from Afghanistan 1400 hold strategy meetings once a week in their small office and discuss how they can continue to shake up society. Recently, they planted 3,498 trees in rural Afghanistan, in commemoration of the innocent civilians who died last year.

“These are not just numbers. These are people, and so are we,” Shahrzad Akbar concludes.