The Taliban dismantle the Afghan education system

Education has, for all intents and purposes, been pilloried in the Taliban’s new Afghanistan. Extremist leaders have declared modern learning irrelevant, banned girls from going to school, and say the religious curriculum taught in madrassas is the only scholarship the country needs.

Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on August 15, they have reintroduced strict controls on individual freedoms, focusing on the details of women’s clothing and the length of men’s beards rather than attacking broader governance needs such as solving the banking paralysis, a food problem. crisis and energy crisis. But when the Taliban need trained minds to overcome a country in a death spiral, the group is making education its next target.

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban’s acting minister of higher education, said this week that the skills acquired over the past 20 years – while the international community has poured billions into development – are of no use for the country, even if it is sinking into economic crisis and humanitarian catastrophe. In a meeting with university professors, he said modern studies were “less valuable” than religious subjects taught in madrassas, Islamic religious schools, and said his ministry would hire teachers with ” values” useful to Afghanistan, an apparent reference to the Taliban. yet unknown interpretation of Sharia.

Education has, for all intents and purposes, been pilloried in the Taliban’s new Afghanistan. Extremist leaders have declared modern learning irrelevant, banned girls from going to school, and say the religious curriculum taught in madrassas is the only scholarship the country needs.

Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on August 15, they have reintroduced strict controls on individual freedoms, focusing on the details of women’s clothing and the length of men’s beards rather than attacking broader governance needs such as solving the banking paralysis, a food problem. crisis and energy crisis. But when the Taliban need trained minds to overcome a country in a death spiral, the group is making education its next target.

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban’s acting minister of higher education, said this week that the skills acquired over the past 20 years – while the international community has poured billions into development – are of no use for the country, even if it is sinking into economic crisis and humanitarian catastrophe. In a meeting with university professors, he said modern studies were “less valuable” than religious subjects taught in madrassas, Islamic religious schools, and said his ministry would hire teachers with ” values” useful to Afghanistan, an apparent reference to the Taliban. yet unknown interpretation of Sharia.

The Taliban’s attitude towards education recalls the group’s earlier reign, from 1996 to 2001, when platitudes such as the “safety” of girls in the classroom were used as excuses to marginalize women from any activity and relegating them to the status of sub-citizens. Observers fear not only that those old refrains will return, but also that the Taliban’s offensive on education threatens to shut down all schooling, for all genders, at almost all levels.

“The Taliban want an education system in line with Taliban ideologies and values, and to that end they have set out to destroy Afghan higher education institutions and reshape the education landscape as they wish,” he said. Weeda Mehran, conflict expert at the University of Exeter.

The Taliban approach to education was perhaps made clearer by Education Minister Molvi Noorullah Munir, who said, “No doctorate. degree, mastery is valuable today. You see the mullahs and the Taliban who are in power don’t have a doctorate, master’s degree or even a high school diploma, but are the greatest of them all.

Education had been seen as one of the success stories of the aid-funded years after the Taliban’s last attempt to rule the country was cut short by the US invasion after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Last year, the World Bank said that 67% of boys and 48% of girls were in school. Schooling in Afghanistan has increased ninefold under international tutelage. Access to education for girls was almost zero under the former Taliban regime, and many students, educators and human rights activists say the country is now heading in the same direction.

Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, said the Taliban have already made “a big concession by allowing girls to go to primary school, which they haven’t last time, and they might think that’s more than enough.” Barr said she hoped the Taliban would use girls’ education as leverage to win concessions from Western countries, such as diplomatic recognition, the thawing of financial assets or assistance in mitigating an impending famine crisis as winter approaches.

But factional political considerations are likely to prevail as the Taliban seek to prevent their most diehard supporters from defecting to the local Islamic State group franchise, known as Islamic State-Khorasan. This group has attracted supporters disappointed by the Taliban’s decision to negotiate with former US President Donald Trump, even though the bilateral agreement reached in 2020 led to the group’s victory this year. Further concessions by the Taliban in the treatment of women could spur more supporters to rally to Islamic State, which the Taliban has declared an enemy.

Statements by Taliban leaders calling for patience in education spell desperation for students, especially girls and women who, after four decades of war, make up more than half of the population of around 38 million of people.

A 21-year-old woman, who spoke on condition that she not be identified, said she chose to study psychology at a university in Kabul because she wanted to help people cope with mental health issues .

“A huge number of people in Afghanistan suffer from depression, suicidal tendencies, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, all related to the war,” she said. “Our country has been a battlefield since the 1970s, and I wanted to be part of the evolution of our society. I volunteered in clinics and I still had a year to go before I graduated. Now all of that has been destroyed by the Taliban.

She enrolled at the University of the People, an accredited nonprofit distance learning institute in the United States that offered scholarships to Afghan students to help them pursue their education. Its founder and president, Shai Reshef, said the university had offered 1,000 scholarships to Afghan women and was raising funds to offer another 1,000. “We believe that preventing women from [accessing] education for whatever reason must be addressed,” he said.

Access to online courses, however, could become moot, as the Taliban either failed to pay Central Asian countries for power supply or yet began collecting payments for electricity service from consumers. Kabul residents say severe electricity shortages leave them without power most of the day, almost every day. With an estimated $10 billion in financial assets frozen by the United States, neither the Taliban nor ordinary citizens have access to cash, and city dwellers say the prices of basic foodstuffs are rising above beyond accessibility.

For the mullah-stuffed Taliban government, the challenge – to somehow exploit and eviscerate higher education at the same time – is brought to life by the stories of those in hiding.

A student who graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul has described himself as “jobless and hopeless”. He is in hiding, he said, because the Taliban had threatened students and professors at the university because it was established and funded by the United States with a “mission to create future leaders”. The campus was occupied less than an hour after the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15, he said.

“They said, ‘American wolves were trained here,’ and the university ‘broadcasts the voice of Christianity,’ which gives you an idea of ​​their attitude,” the student said.

The campus has been looted and ransacked, is still occupied by armed Taliban and is likely to become a madrasa. “They are always chasing students and teachers and beating them up, so I’m staying home for my own safety,” he said.

Mehran, who grew up under the Taliban before leaving the country to pursue his own education, said it would take years, if not generations, to undo the damage.

“It’s easy to destroy, but much, much harder to rebuild,” she said.