A close reading of relevant sources and statements indicates that the Taleban believe they are engaged in a fekri jagra, a war of thoughts, which, in their view, has been imposed on Afghanistan, as part of a long historical process. This has sparked a series of swift and radical changes aimed at overhauling and reinventing post-2001 higher education and characterised by the enforcement of a top-down reorientation and unquestioning obedience. The little and fragile space for freedom and diversity that had developed in the period 2001-2021 has thus fast been disappearing in the emergent Taleban-defined university. More urgently, the full ban on women in higher education – and on girls’ education beyond the sixth grade – is rupturing the continuity, sustainability and meaning of all remaining education at any level.
While the Taleban have not dismantled higher education, they are seeking to make it an extension of their movement by theocratising and instrumentalising its structure and curricula and surveilling the people involved – all in the service of rationalising and strengthening the second emirate.
The Taleban authorities will likely continue to entrench this university in the foreseeable future. However, whereas the shape and direction of the changes are clear, questions remain about the (near) future of higher education in the country, including what a fully-fledged and articulated Taleban concept and structure of higher education would look and feel like. Most foundational is the question of what will happen as the Taleban continue their top down reorientation and expect unquestioning obedience in the context of an existing university that still embraces, in some way, both Taleban and non-Taleban.
Edited by Martine van Bijlert
* Reza Kazemi is a visiting researcher (September 2021-August 2023) of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation hosted at the Institute of Anthropology, Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies, Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg. He previously worked as a researcher at AAN.
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