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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Deals Yet Another Blow To Education In Afghanistan

Workers move a desk at an empty educational facility setup by UNICEF after it was closed on April 16 on the orders of the Taliban government.
Workers move a desk at an empty educational facility setup by UNICEF after it was closed on April 16 on the orders of the Taliban government.

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 has closed all education centers in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand that were funded by foreign NGOs.

The hundreds of education centers, mostly funded by UNICEF, the United Nations children's agency, and Save The Children, provided literacy classes to tens of thousands of girls and boys in remote areas that lack government schools.

Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, a spokesman for the Kandahar educational department, told Radio Azadi that the activities of the education centers had been suspended until further notice. He said the decision was made after “complaints from locals,” without elaborating.

Why It's Important: The decision is the latest blow to education in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has banned girls above the sixth grade from attending school and women from studying in universities.

The militant group has also tried to root out all forms of secular education and converted scores of secular schools, universities, and training centers into madrasahs, or Islamic seminaries.

Munir Ahmad, a resident of Kandahar, told Radio Azadi that he is "very concerned" about the Taliban’s decision. "This is not good news for us because most classes were in areas where children have no [other] access to education," he said.

The Taliban’s move appears to be the latest salvo in its standoff with foreign NGOs. The Taliban has imposed restrictions on the UN and other international organizations, including banning them from employing Afghan women.

What's Next: There are fears that the closure of foreign-funded education centers in southern Afghanistan, the birthplace and political base of the Taliban, could be extended nationwide.

If that occurs, hundreds of thousands of children will join the already estimated 3 million school-aged girls who are unable to receive an education.

The Week's Best Stories

The sidewalks outside bakeries in the Afghan capital, Kabul, are packed with desperate mothers and children hoping for a bite to eat. The Taliban has banned women and girls from many jobs, secondary schools, and universities since returning to power in August 2021, triggering an economic crisis, according to the UN.

Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city, appears to be becoming the de facto capital under the militant group’s rule. Several officials have recently been transferred from Kabul to Kandahar. Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada lives in the city and rarely leaves the Pashtun heartland in southern Afghanistan.

What To Keep An Eye On

The UN has threatened to leave Afghanistan as soon as next month if the Taliban does not reverse its ban on Afghan women working for the world body.

Achim Steiner, the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, said on April 18 that the “entire United Nations system” is taking “a step back and reevaluating its ability to operate” in Afghanistan. He said the UN would not negotiate its “fundamental principles.”

Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on April 12 that the group does not want to create "obstacles for the United Nations," but added that the ban on Afghan women working for the organization was "an internal issue of Afghanistan."

But the UN has said the around 600 Afghan women it employs are vital in delivering life-saving aid to Afghans and warned that the Taliban would bear responsibility for the humanitarian consequences.

Why It's Important: The UN’s exit from Afghanistan would have disastrous consequences and aggravate the already dire humanitarian crisis in the country. UN agencies provide critical assistance in the fields of health, education, and food security.

The UN on April 18 announced that an estimated 34 million Afghans -- out of a population of 40 million -- were living below the poverty line. The figure is a huge increase of 15 million since 2020, when the Western-backed Afghan government was still in power.

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

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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.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.