Plugging Afghanistan's Brain Drain

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This is the third in a series of conversations about Afghanistan.

The future of war-ravaged Afghanistan could be determined by a new generation of people committed to helping the country rebuild.

Khaleeq Ahmad, who returned to Afghanistan days ago to work for an Afghan telecom company, is one of them. He's hopeful that he can follow Mohandas Gandhi's charge to "be the change you want to see in the world."

Although Ahmad, 30, was born in Afghanistan, he grew up and went to college in the U.S. In 2002, he went back to his home country to work as an aide to President Hamid Karzai. Five years later, he left for graduate school in London, and later began working for the telecom company in Virginia.

But he decided his real mission was in Afghanistan.

"I looked at other opportunities," Ahmad says, before coming to the conclusion that he "owed it" to Afghanistan. "I understand the country, and there are a lot of qualified Afghans that left ... and they won't go back anymore." He was also interested in seeing how the country had changed.

The increasing violence in the region did give him pause. "When I was talking to a lot of my friends in the U.S., especially ones that had worked in Afghanistan, they were very careful, especially with the kidnapping situation that was going on around the country," Ahmad says. "It was in the back of my head the whole time. But then I saw a lot of people who were still going back and still coming, and said, 'Well you know, it's not what the media portrays it, it's not that bad.'"

Ahmad notes that not having electricity due to "state bureaucracy" is more likely to bother him than security issues and points to the erratic electricity as a symptom of a larger problem facing Afghanistan.

"The most important advantage that a person from the West would bring to Afghanistan, other than an Afghan person coming from the West, was his management skills," he says. Although skilled professionals have come to work in Afghanistan, he says, they leave the country once their contracts are over, leaving behind little in the way of training or infrastructure.

"The qualified Afghans today do not work for the government — they work in the private sector, they work for NGOs or for the U.N. because they're paid better there," Ahmad says.

He also blames the Afghan government's inefficiencies for a lack of commitment from the international community. Solving the electricity shortage, for example, requires funding that only the international community can provide. But whatever the reason for Afghanistan's woes, Ahmad thinks things can change.

"We all made our mistakes, I believe, but it's still not too late," he says. "I came back because deep inside I'm still optimistic about everything."



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