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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Intensifies Efforts To Eradicate Secular Education In Afghanistan

Since seizing power, the Taliban has attempted to root out all forms of secular education in Afghanistan.
Since seizing power, the Taliban has attempted to root out all forms of secular education in Afghanistan.

Welcome back to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Mustafa Sarwar, a senior news editor at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Taliban ordered the closure of all teacher-training centers in Afghanistan on July 4, according to a letter circulated by its Education Ministry and obtained by Radio Azadi.

The order affects 49 teacher-training centers and 198 support facilities across the country, according to a source at the ministry who spoke to Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Around 5,600 instructors and other staff were employed by the training centers. Created under the previous Western-backed Afghan government, the centers were aimed at improving the quality of education in the war-torn country.

In its letter, the Taliban did not reveal the reasons for its decision. But the militant group said employees of the centers could be given jobs in Taliban-run education facilities, although it is unclear how many would take up the offer.

The Taliban's Deputy Education Minister Sibghatullah Wasil, in an interview with BBC Pashto, suggested that the centers were inefficient and "had no plans, no work, and were not busy."

Why It's Important: The Taliban's decision to close the training centers appears part of its wider efforts to root out all forms of the modern secular education that thrived in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban's first regime.

Since regaining power, the militants have converted scores of secular schools, public universities, and vocational training centers into Islamic seminaries, leading to a surge in the number of madrasahs in the country.

The hard-line Islamist group has also vowed to overhaul the national curriculum and build a vast network of madrasahs across the country's 34 provinces.

Last month, a Taliban education official, Abdul Wahid Tariq, said the group had so far built madrasahs in five provinces.

The Taliban's closure of the teacher-training centers will likely see thousands of instructors and educators lose their jobs.

"Cutting off the income of these people and making them unemployed will cause society and the families of the teachers serious problems," a Kabul-based teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Radio Azadi.

What's Next: The Taliban appears likely to continue what some activists have called its war on education.

The group has banned women from attending university and girls above the sixth grade from going to school.

The Taliban's efforts to eradicate secular education and replace it with radical religious instruction are likely to contribute to the spread of extremist ideologies in Afghanistan.

The Week's Best Stories

An Afghan refugee seeking asylum in the United States is now captivating audiences on-screen, portraying a character she has a lot in common with. In her first-ever acting role, Anaita Wali Zada plays a haunted young immigrant named Donya who finds herself beached in the northern California city of Fremont. Her new life: working in a factory, writing fortunes for Chinese cookies.

A court in Pakistan recently ordered the government to grant citizenship to the Afghan husbands of four Pakistani women. While it sets a precedent for a few hundred similar cases, the huge majority of Afghan refugees cannot get Pakistani nationality -- even those who were born and have lived in the country for decades.

What To Keep An Eye On

When the United States pulled out its forces from Afghanistan in 2021, it left behind billions of dollars' worth of military equipment and weapons.

The Taliban seized the arms after the fall of the internationally recognized Afghan government during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal.

Some of those arms are being sold in weapons markets in border areas with Pakistan with the consent of local Taliban officials, according to a new report by the Small Arms Survey.

The Switzerland-based research group says the Taliban has tried to tighten its control over the group's massive weapons stocks. But it said arms smuggling exists.

Why It's Important: The Small Arms Survey says the presence of weapons markets in Afghanistan increases the risk of arms proliferation in the region.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are home to dozens of militant groups, and observers have raised fears that U.S. weapons have fallen into the hands of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, which is waging an increasingly bloody insurgency against Islamabad.

The Taliban has rejected the findings of the survey as propaganda, saying all weapons under the group's control are accounted for.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently accused the Taliban of selling U.S. weapons left behind in Afghanistan to Washington's "enemies," including Iran.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Mustafa Sarwar

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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    Mustafa Sarwar

    Mustafa Sarwar is a senior news editor for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday in our newsletter, the Azadi Briefing, correspondent Abubakar Siddique shares his analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.

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