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Afghan Youth Determined to Keep Hard-won Freedoms

More than 60 percent of Afghanistan's population is under the age of 25, making the youth in the country a powerful voting and political block. Presidential candidates have been actively courting young people.

It's hard to picture, but 15 years ago the Taliban held mass hangings and amputations in a Kabul stadium where soccer matches now are regularly played.

Today's urban youth are more optimistic.

But like Haideri Kawash, they are tired of years of violence. "When I come from home to do practice here, there are too much fears, bomb blasters, many dangerous things. So I hope that the new government come and ensure security all over the country."

With more than 60 percent of the population under age 25, presidential candidates are pledging jobs and stability to win the votes of youth like these.

Fahima Kawoon hosts a popular call-in music show. She said Afghanistan will never return to a time women and youth were ignored.

"When you compare now with five years ago, everything is changed, because at that time the girls were not working out of the home, and there were less girls working out of the home, or going to school, but now we see in every place, in every area, young people working," said Kawoon.

Not everyone, though, is optimistic about the future.

Rohullah was a refugee during Taliban times. Then he worked with U.S. forces trying to improve his country. Now he is afraid for his life and is trying again to leave.

"All the candidates say after they win the elections they say they are going to bring changes, they always say they are going to being changes for the Afghan people, but I think all they say is just a dream," said Rohullah.

Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington said no one candidate will control the youth vote.

"I think it is not yet clear how important the youth vote will be in Afghanistan; it depends on how many young people actually come out to vote and who they vote for. I don't think that you should expect any one candidate to dominate the youth market, I would expect they will split," said Kagan.

Young business and political voices here say it is not so much about who wins, but whether they win legitimately.

Fahim Tokhi, CEO of an IT solutions company, and active on Facebook, said today's youth are willing to fight for that.

"If the election result is corrupt, I think the youth will go to streets and there will be very huge numbers of protesters in the streets in every provinces of Afghanistan," said Tokhi.

Although politicized urban youth are still fairly small in numbers in Afghanistan, they believe their reach through media makes them influential. This election gives them a chance to prove it.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.