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My friend gave his life for Afghanistan’s better future

By Hamdullah Mohib-Hidayatullah Zaheer, known as Zee to his many friends, was killed earlier this month in my hometown of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, during a terror attack on a cricket match that he organized to celebrate peace and unity during the holy month of Ramadan. The attack killed eight people and wounded 45 others, including a small child.

Zee, only 32, was a grassroots activist known for his courage, perseverance, and ability to bring diverse groups of people together, and to give voice to the most marginalized, including women and young people. He mobilized peaceful initiatives in his region against dangerous forces — predatory power brokers, corrupt officials, and terrorists including ISIS — that benefit from and perpetuate the violence in Afghanistan.

We lose precious lives in our country every day to the war and senseless terror against the Afghan people. Zee was one of thousands making important contributions to our country who made the ultimate sacrifice. But there is reason to be hopeful. We have not lost their spirit, their values and principles, and their sense of mission. The younger generation is taking the responsibility of picking up and carrying the torch of the fallen. We will persist until we achieve the peace we deserve.

Over the last several years, Zee dedicated his life to leading the Watan Pala Zwanan community, a network of youth, activists, and leaders from communities across eastern Afghanistan with a mission to serve the most marginalized communities, including refugees. The organization provides them not only humanitarian assistance but also opportunities to come together against the extremist forces seeking to divide them.

From organizing poetry festivals and cricket matches to setting up computer labs and creating safe spaces for women to gather in conservative areas, everything Zee did was with the belief that unity would steer his country into a better future.

But as we mourn and honor Zee his remarkable bravery, it’s even more important to recognize that so many Afghan youths from all walks of life across the country are engaging in this kind of critical yet risky work. Afghanistan has the largest youth bulge in the region. Half the population is under the age of 15, and 30% of young people are unemployed, most of those in rural areas.

Promoting peaceful values and providing educational and recreational activities are important paths to peace that are often overlooked but vitally important, especially when our young people initiate them. These efforts allow us, as a generation brought up in war, to move past the political and ethnic divisions, and narratives of violence, that have corrupted the country and held it hostage to conflict. My generation envisions a different Afghanistan.

The National Unity Government has also invested in the younger generation, bringing more young voices into national dialogue around important issues such as peace and citizenship. Out of 106 Ministers and Deputy Ministers, nearly half are under the age of 45, and in the government’s national rural development program, over half of community development council members are below the age of 45, and half of them are women.

These changes represent the generational shift happening in my country. Our younger generation sees the future they want to create in Afghanistan, and they are taking action in government, the private sector and civil society to make their present deeds and words count toward their future. (CNN)

Hamdullah Mohib (@hmohib) is Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States. The views expressed here are solely his.

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