Afghan Expatriates Weigh A Return Home In the years after the U.S. invasion, a steady stream of Afghans living abroad came home to help rebuild their country. Then, security started to get worse. There were more suicide attacks and a general feeling of unease. Now, many Afghans living abroad wonder: Is it worth it?
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Afghan Expatriates Weigh A Return Home

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Afghan Expatriates Weigh A Return Home

Afghan Expatriates Weigh A Return Home

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

But as NPR's Rachel Martin reports, many Afghans wonder if it's worth it.

RACHEL MARTIN: He's now 35 years old. He's got an MBA from Georgetown University, a strong connection to his homeland - and a big decision to make.

WEIS SHERDEL: I'm seriously considering giving back to Afghanistan. It's been something that has never left me. And I need to deliver on that promise.

MARTIN: I spoke with him at a Virginia shopping mall, close to his office. Sherdel says he feels a moral responsibility to go home to help rebuild. But he's got some major reservations.

SHERDEL: First of all, security. You know, would I be safe in that environment? And then the second thing is really financial compensation. Would I be able to make enough money to support my family back in the United States?

MARTIN: These are the kinds of concerns that keep many Afghans from coming home. Clare Lockhart is the director an organization focused on rebuilding Afghanistan. It's called the Institute for State Effectiveness. She lived there for five years after the US overthrew the Taliban. Back then, she says, she saw Afghan expats coming home.

CLARE LOCKHART: Between 2001 and 2005 there was a trajectory of hope and working towards a better future and institution building and progress. And then something tipped in 2005.

MARTIN: Security started to get worse. There were more suicide attacks, a general feeling of unease. And many of the Afghans who had come from Europe, Canada and the U.S. started to believe Afghanistan was getting worse, not better. Again, Clare Lockhart.

LOCKHART: And the impact of that is that the people who might have joined in a moment of hope have begun to leave.

MARTIN: People like Tamim Samee, who spoke with me from Beirut on a pretty rough Skype connection.

TAMIM SAMEE: So many things could have been better. So many things could have been done better. For me, to leave the country at this point is very sad.

MARTIN: Samee is an Afghan American who moved back to Afghanistan in 2003 and started an I.T. company. But after more than six years in Kabul, he's packed his bags and left in frustration. He says doing business in Afghanistan was hard enough, but working for the government would have demanded moral compromises he wasn't willing to make.

SAMEE: Corruption is rife throughout the system and you either become part of the system or you're spat out very, very quickly, and I just didn't want to go through that ordeal.

MARTIN: And that's the real problem, says Clare Lockhart. Afghans from abroad can make a difference for a while, but they get frustrated and leave. A more lasting solution, she says, is to rely on Afghans already there by investing in the country's high schools and universities. The Taliban suffocated the development of an entire professional generation. Lockhart says Afghanistan is now at risk of losing another.

LOCKHART: It seems that the country really is at a turning point and the opportunity rests with the people of Afghanistan and particularly the next generation. And the key opportunity for the country is finding ways to make them stakeholders in their future.

MARTIN: It's a future Weis Sherdel, the Georgetown graduate, thinks he wants to be part of.

SHERDEL: I'm aware of the frustration, of the corruption, of the inefficacy of things, but I'm not so discouraged that I would say I don't want to go. So I still have hope, I still am optimistic.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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