Security and Brain Drain in Afghanistan


In light of the most recent terrorist attack on the Defence Ministry in Kabul, the deadliest in the 15 years of war with 64 reported dead and 347 wounded, it is worth looking at the security situation in Afghanistan. The coalition government is at a standstill due to continuous disagreements between long-time rivals in the presidential race, President Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah. Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah cannot agree on the candidates, which has created a standstill in more than one department and it resulted in the country not having the intelligence agency Chief nor Minister of Defence, further weakening the state security structure or what is in place of it. The outcome is that the security situation in Afghanistan is in continuous deterioration.

Furthermore, Afghanistan has been experiencing an outflow of migrants that, along with Syrian refugees, is already grappling Europe.In a report released in June 2015, UNHCR stated that there are 2,6 million Afghan refugees around the world. UNHCR further estimates that only in 2016 over 50 000 Afghans migrated with 80 per cent of them fleeing conflict and violence.  As a consequence of this, as well as the unstable economic situation and increasing unemployment, the country faces an inevitable and ever growing brain drain.

Abdul Jabbar is young Afghan expat who is currently working in West Africa where he has been helping communities since the Ebola outbreak. He is part of the said brain drain, one of many young Afghans leaving the country in order to find a job, economic stability and security in Europe, the United States or elsewhere in the world.

The first time I met Abdul was in Kabul in 2010. He was one of the interviewees for an HR position for one of the biggest USAID contractors in the country that was about to open the new office in the north Afghan town of Kunduz. The Chief of Party and myself were conducting interviews and were very impressed by Abdul’s poise, the sharpness of his mind and sense of humour. He was self-confident, relaxed and chatty. It was refreshing for us, panel members to see someone like that. He started, as an HR officer but was so much more than that. Us opening an office in the north of the country meant that we were brand new to the area with a scarce network of contacts, thus, our first task was to connect and build a network of partners and friends. Abdul was our man for it: resourceful and committed to making us feel at home.

Abdul explains why he left the country ‘I was employed by different USAID and U.S. Department of Defense contractors in senior roles and as a result of my jobs I was a prime target. Therefore, I left Afghanistan and moved to the United States. There are thousands of other Afghans, like me, who were working for international organisations and based on their personal security conditions they preferred to leave the country.’

Although the UN reports that 2015 was the deadliest for Afghan civilians since it started documenting violence in 2009, by the death toll so far, 2016 doesn’t look to be far behind.

Due to the new legislations for the refugee crisis, Afghan refugees do not have the same treatment as refugees from Syria or Iraq; not in Turkey, nor Greece or Macedonia. They are being separated from the Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and not allowed to cross the border to Macedonia. In addition, they are given 30 days to decide how they want to proceed their uncertain journey as opposed to the Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are given six months to make the same decision.

However, ‘most Afghans know the challenges of moving into a new culture, learning a language, difficulties of finding jobs and means to survive but still they deem it better than living in an insecure country. Furthermore, Afghans who are immigrating illegally also see and hear about the challenges in crossing the land or ocean to Europe or Australia on rafts but again it is a preferred choice for most rather than living in Afghanistan’, Abdul explains what many in Europe today are struggling to understand.

The military intervention and development mission in Afghanistan that started in 2001 is not showing positive results. 15 years and billions of dollars later, it seems that security is not better, the economy is deficient and freedom is nowhere near. Now, as the international community slowly withdraws from Afghanistan, security is deteriorating, which is a clear indication that current Afghan military, police and other security agencies are not capable of keeping the country safe by themselves. The example is Kunduz province falling into the hands of Taliban for almost 2 weeks in September and October 2015 when the tragic attack on MSF Hospital killed 42 medical personnel and patients. Economically speaking, although the achievements are significant, more efforts are needed from the international community and the government itself to prevent the economy from collapsing.

‘I firmly believe that it is too early for international troops to leave Afghanistan. We have already seen the impact and I believe it can get worse if all the troops withdraw’, concludes Abdul.

Afghanistan needs young, enthusiastic, population eager to educate themselves and work and it has got it – one of the youngest populations in the world, with 64 per cent below 25 years of age, yet the prospects for the Afghan youth seem disheartening as the match between the two appears to be non-existent. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM)  reports that through its Return of Qualified Afghans project, 1433 Afghan experts returned, including 220 female professionals, in the period between 2002 and December 2013. While the political ‘top’ has immersed itself in their own personal and political rivalries, the Afghanistan’s young and educated who are ready and willing to make the change to improve their country, are changing their country of residence looking for their future in places where they believe they are safer.

The article first appeared in Words in the Bucket on May 12, 2016.

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