Afghan students return to Kabul University, but with restrictions
Dozens of girl students, all wearing hijabs, veils worn by Muslim women, queue outside the university gate
Kabul University, one of Afghanistan’s oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning, reopened on February 26, six months after the Taliban took the country back. However, there were new restrictions including gender segregation and compulsory Islamic dress.
Dozens of female students, all wearing hijabs, veils worn by Muslim women, lined up outside the university gate. They were eager to resume classes suddenly reduced in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August. The Taliban were guarding three entrances to the compound.
Most students said they didn’t know what to expect, but were surprised to find that they could resume the regular curriculum and continue in their chosen fields of study. The university largely follows the American liberal arts model.
The music department was the only discipline canceled for both men and women, returning students told the Associated Press. The Taliban did not respond to AP’s requests for comment.
“There has been no change in the curriculum,” said Bahija Aman, 21, the third-year anthropology major. “The instructors in my classes are the same. I am glad that they finally let us return to the university,” she said. Once 22,000 students participated, the much-awaited inauguration was a quiet affair.
No public announcement was made from the Taliban government and media requests to enter the compound were denied. A statement on the university’s official Facebook page this week announced that students would return to classes on Saturday and classes would follow religious and cultural values.
Like most public universities, Kabul University was closed shortly after the Taliban takeover. The issue of whether women will be able to return without any restrictions has been a major concern of the international community. Many feared the Taliban would ban women as was the case during the group’s previous regime from 1996-2001.
The Taliban have said they have no objection to women’s education, but they need to separate classes and be based on Islamic principles as they understand them. Some public universities reopened earlier this month in Lagham, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Nimroj, Farah and Helmand provinces.
Girls in grades seven and up have been barred from school in much of the country since the Taliban took over six months ago, despite the lack of a formal ban. The Taliban have said girls will be able to return to school by the end of March.
Access to education is a major demand of the international community and the Taliban have blamed the delay on the lack of sufficient space, especially in cities, to accommodate differently-abled schooling.
The new restrictions were communicated by the instructors to a group of female students on Saturday morning. They had to wear an Islamic head covering and could not bring smartphones to the university campus. Male students attend the course in the afternoon.
But it seems nothing else has changed. Kabul University posted a list of vacancies on its Facebook page earlier this month, including positions in the arts, public policy, literature, media and communications, and political science departments.