Socialist Worker

Jobless, displaced and bitter—life inside the West’s occupation of Afghanistan

The western city of Herat is seen by many as the most stable in Afghanistan yet there is growing bitterness at unemployment and the lack of secure jobs

Issue No. 2178

Men gather in the Afghan town of Herat, hoping to get a day’s work  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/» Guy Smallman )

Men gather in the Afghan town of Herat, hoping to get a day’s work (Pic: » Guy Smallman)


The western city of Herat is seen by many as the most stable and functioning in Afghanistan.

Insurgent attacks are rare and it is cleaner and more relaxed than cities such as Kabul and Jalalabad.

Yet like everywhere else in Afghanistan there is growing bitterness at unemployment and the lack of secure jobs.

It is 6.15am, and an intersection called Badmorghan is teeming with over 500 men wrapped in blankets and waiting in freezing temperatures by the roadside.

This is one of seven locations around Herat where up to 1,000 unemployed labourers converge each morning.

These men have been here since 4.30am in the hope of being offered a day’s work in one of the local building sites.

The lucky ones will work for between ten and 12 hours, earning the equivalent of around £2.40. Most will leave here disappointed.

When we arrive we are mobbed by a group of about 50 men. My translator explains that we are only here to talk. Most are happy to oblige—they are bored and it is unlikely now they will get work today. The gangmasters have usually finished collecting by 6am.

The men vary in age from late teens to early 50s.

All of them have families to support. They tell me that single unemployed men go to Iran, Dubai or Tajikistan for work where the pay and conditions are much better.

Most of them are from rural areas outside the city.

Derelict

Wakil has travelled 125 kilometres from Obeh district to look for work. He shares a room with six other unemployed labourers.

Previously he had tried to save money by sleeping in a derelict building but he became sick and had to move.

Wakil complains bitterly about the lack of investment in the rural economy. He blames the occupation for his predicament.

“The Americans have just made things worse,” he tells me. “Our farms cannot trade without safe roads and open borders.

“My father was a wealthy man exporting apples all over the region. Now I cannot grow enough for my own family.

“The foreign troops just attract fighters from Pakistan and the Middle East.”

Azmaray has cycled 14 kilometres. He tells me that he usually gets work for between one and four days of the week. Two of his three children are now working to supplement the family income.

Azmaray blames the Afghan government for the misery endured by his family. “The president should make peace with the Taliban,” he says.

“There are no jobs because employers fear the kidnapping and suicide attacks. No one wants to build here.”

When I ask him why there is no work in his village he tells me that the orchards traditionally maintained by his family died when the irrigation channels were destroyed by the Russian army in the 1980s.

Standing apart from the others is a group of men who are clearly bottom of the pecking order. I am told that they are always the last to get work and they are paid the least.

They are refugees who have fled the fighting in neighbouring Farah province. They are treated with suspicion by the others as they only speak Pashto and come from Taliban-controlled areas.

“They could find work,” says one local. “The Taliban pay up to $15 a day.”


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