Afghanistan Analysts Network – English


Thematic Dossier V: Afghan Education Policies and Politics

AAN Team 10 min

Accompanying our latest paper on education in Afghanistan – on the advantages and disadvantages of a rapidly growing private higher education sector –, we offer another of our Thematic Dossiers. It provides an overview of all of AAN’s education related dispatches and papers. For easier access to the body of work that includes pieces from the past five years (but occasionally looks back over decades), we have grouped them into three categories:

Higher (education) hopes: a girl in a teacher training class in Bamyan. Photo: Christine Roehrs

1.  “Education, Policies and Politics”, gathering a broader variety of dispatches describing academic life in Afghanistan, for example including reports on demonstrations or radicalisation tendencies, as well as looking deeper into problems arising each year all over again around the university entry exams or the influence of early reformists like Mahmud Tarzi on the Afghan education system.

2. “Education in the Provinces” which gathers dispatches describing the challenges schools, teachers and ministries face in remote areas of Afghanistan, for example in Ghor or Badakhshan.

3. “The Taleban and Education”, summarising papers and dispatches looking at the Taleban’s approach to education, for example their negotiations with the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) or how they influence curricula and teaching staff.

1. Education, Policies and Politics

How good are Afghanistan’s private universities? An interview with the author of AAN’s latest paper

Author: AAN Team    Date: 1 June 2014

AAN is launching its latest paper, looking at the state of Afghanistan’s private higher education sector (download paper here). Over the past five years, private universities have experienced an unprecedented boom. This is not only good news. In this interview, the author of the paper, Niamatullah Ibrahimi, an Afghan analysts who has extensively researched and written about current and historical affairs of Afghanistan, highlights the advantages of more education opportunities opening up, but also explains the challenges this new and rapidly growing sector faces, from oversight issues and the competition with the state sector to the lack of quality standards. He also raises concerns regarding some of the private institutions influencing students politically and religiously, with, as he says, longterm consequences for the stability and security of the country.

Bureaucratic Policies and Patronage Politics: Prospects and Challenges of Private Higher Education in Afghanistan

Author: Niamatullah Ibrahimi    Date: 1 June 2014

The latest AAN report, “Bureaucratic Policies and Patronage Politics: Prospects and Challenges of Private Higher Education in Afghanistan” by Niamatullah Ibrahimi, looks into the impressive growth of private higher education sector in Afghanistan in recent years but also at how this growth is overlooking the comprehensive policies and long-term vision towards a better quality education and its role in stability and development.

Afghan Youth for Democracy? Not all of them

Author: Borhan Osman     Date: 2 April 2014

Many observers are looking with hope at the progress in terms of education of Afghan youth and often describe it as a safeguard of democracy during the political transitions ahead. This, however, means painting Afghan youth with an all–too-broad brush and closing eyes to undercurrents that try to undermine further democratisation, says AAN’s Borhan Osman. Not all young Afghans who obtained better education, training and skills over the past decade use their knowledge to help democracy take roots, he writes; many are actually vehemently against democracy and its essential pillar, popular elections. Osman is currently writing a paper on the radicalisation of youth and has, for this dispatch, pulled out some of his findings about this stratum and its ideas about elections.

Cheating and Worse: The university entry (kankur) exams as a bottleneck for higher education

Author: Obaid Ali     Date: 26 February 2014

Getting into university via the so called kankur exam is one of the highest hurdles for Afghanistan’s young generation wanting to obtain higher education. Each year, there are allegations of corruption, fraud and flawed management of the exams while the number of high school graduates sitting them increases. AAN’s Obaid Ali (with input by Christine Roehrs) looks at this term’s kankur exams and concludes that the challenges have as much to do with internal corruption as with the technical limitations of a higher education system that still suffers from a lack of reform, teachers and financial means.

Some Things Got Better – How Much Got Good? A review of 12 years of international intervention in Afghanistan

Author: Thomas Ruttig   Date: 30 December 2013

2013 marked the year in which the international community started to wrap up many of the initiatives to re-build Afghanistan – arguably the biggest international effort since the post-Word-War-II Marshal Plan. But where did this effort leave the country? For AAN’s year-end piece, co-director Thomas Ruttig has summarised what has happened, what has been achieve – and what hasn’t – over the past 12 years. He looks at the security situation, the rule of law, the domestic political landscape, the economy, education, social protection as well as foreign aid and its impacts, and he assesses the factors shaping them. He has forensically picked his way through major studies and briefing papers, books and press releases, media reports on national and international institutions’ programs as well as AAN’s own substantial body of work. One of his conclusions is that a multitude of problems remains – and as the Western approach became more and more militarised, some were even exacerbated. He also concludes, that the simplified optimism currently broadcast by foreign governments is likely to stand in the way of identifying priorities for post-2014 action.

About Discrimination and Internet Access: Another student protest in Kabul

Author: Niamatullah Ibrahimi    Date: 28 May 2013

The 24 May complex Taleban attack in the heart of Kabul and, to a lesser extent, the demonstration of Kabul University students against the Law for the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW law) overshadowed another student protest in the Afghan capital. For eight days ending yesterday, some 80 students mostly of the Social Science Faculty of Kabul University were on hunger strike in front of parliament. They protested about the discrimination against certain student groups and nepotism among the university’s leadership. AAN guest analyst Niamatullah Ibrahimi(*) looks at the wider implications of the protests and at necessary reforms of the country’s leading university.

The EVAW law – an Evil Law? The backlash at Kabul University

Author: Borhan Osman    Date: 26 May 2013

Many worried that debating the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law in parliament might backfire. In the end, the Speaker cut short the discussion and sent it into the shadows of a parliamentary committee for further discussion. However, even such a brief debate brought he existence of the law to the public’s attention and the reactions have mostly been negative. Hundreds of students on Wednesday staged a protest, not only to condemn this particular law, but the whole current political system. They chanted slogans such as ‘democracy is kufr’ and ‘democracy is bestial’. Borhan Osman has been looking at the students’ reaction and how the public perceives the law. Although the demonstration was small, a backlash that was stronger, more broad-based and sustained could surface, he writes, if the law is again put to debate.

AAN Reportage: What Sparked the Ashura Day Riots and Murder in Kabul University?

Author: Borhan Osman    Date: 17 January 2013

Last November, on the day of Ashura, a Muslim religious day with particular importance for Shias who mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Hussain, clashes erupted between Sunni and Shia students in the dormitory of the Kabul University. The campus was literally turned into a battlefield. One student was killed and more than a dozen were wounded. The sectarian clash in the country’s prime academic institution shocked many in the country, spreading fears of both sectarian violence and students deeply absorbed in politics and religious activism. AAN’s researcher Borhan Osman presents a ‘whodunit’, looking at what really triggered the university melee. 

Inspiration in Kabul: Nancy Dupree and the Opening of the Afghanistan Centre

Author: Kate Clark   Date: 29 March 2013

The Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU) has been officially opened. A beautiful, airy building with a central green courtyard, it has space for both researchers and the Centre’s collection of 80,000 (and increasing) documents collected over the last three decades. The driving force behind the project is Nancy Hatch Dupree who said that ‘for a nation to prosper, it must have an involved citizenry and they must have access to knowledge.’ As AAN senior analyst Kate Clark, who went to the opening, reports, the first thing that should be said about the Centre is that it is very exciting indeed.

Students Oppose Re-naming University after Slain Ex-President

Author: Kate Clark   Date: 30 September 2012

It is now a week since students at the University of Education began protesting over President Karzai’s decision to change its name to the Ustad (Professor) Burhanuddin Rabbani University. On Saturday, they managed to block MPs – and one of AAN’s researchers – from getting into parliament. The students have been cautiously – and rather politely – making their anger felt, while trying to avoid inflaming supporters of the former president, former head of the High Peace Council and leader of the mujahedin party, Jamiat-e Islami, who was killed a year ago by an assassin posing as a peace envoy from the Taleban. As AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark writes, who gets to name whom as hero – or villain – is a clear assertion of power and the students have therefore stepped into a highly contentious area.

How to name universities or: Any linguistic problem in Afghanistan?

Author: Lutz Rzehak    Date: 17 May 2012

Language matters. The issue of what the ‘correct’ naming of an institution is, is just one of the linguistic debates that have become highly politicised in post-Taleban Afghanistan. Our guest blogger, Lutz Rzehak(*), looks at these issues from the point of view of a linguist who speaks three of Afghanistan’s languages and has carried out research there for several decades. In this first part of the blog, he looks at the naming issue and discussed how much, and how differently, language influenced identity among Dari and Pashto speakers. In a second part, to be published soon, he explores how particularly the country’s two main languages, Dari and Pashto, influence each other and presents some surprising findings.

Afghanistan’s Early Reformists: Mahmud Tarzi’s ideas and their influence on the Wesh Zalmian movement

Author: Thomas Ruttig    Date: 27 April 2011

This paper of its Senior Analysts Thomas Ruttig represents the opening of AAN’s new series of occasional papers. It addresses the influence of the thoughts of Afghan nationalist and moderniser Mahmud Tarzi (1865-1933), foreign minister under reformer-king Amanullah (1919-29), on Afghanistan’s 1940/50s pro-democratic opposition movement, the Wesh Zalmian (Awakened Youth). Progress in the education system and first steps towards a constitutionalist political system can be counted amongst their major achievements. As a result, access to education was not limited to the court, the aristocracy and the Ulema any more; the urban middle-classes and tribal leaders sent their sons (under Amanullah also some daughters) to the new schools. This way, modern thoughts slowly also penetrated the tribal society. As a result of the Young Afghans’ educational reforms, the educated class grew considerably over the following decades.

Nation-Building is not for all: The politics of education

Author: Antonio Giustozzi    Date: 5 May 2010

In this AAN report Afghanistan scholar Antonio Giustozzi explores the deeply political and contentious history of education in Afghanistan. The report discusses the development of state education over the last 90 years in the context of nation-building, and touches on a series of crucial issues, including the role of religion; the priority of government concerns over community concerns; the importance attributed to universal education; the weight placed on female education; and the use of the curricula for the purpose of indoctrination.

2. Education in the Provinces

Pupils as Pawns: Plundered education in Ghor

Author: Obaid Ali    Date: 27 August 2013

Empty classrooms, fake girls’ schools, teachers’ salaries siphoned off by warlords: in Ghor province in Afghanistan’s west, the shadows of strongmen loom large and schools, too, have become pawns in the power struggle between rival factions. AAN’s Obaid Ali has visited this remote, poor and conflict-ridden province and – in this second of three dispatches (see the first on security here) – looks at the education situation. He even finds the working schools lacking and parents sending their kids to madrasas instead.

Education in times of waseta: The example of Badakhshan

Author: Fabrizio Foschini     Date: 5 October 2012

It is common wisdom that teachers are among the most important sections of Afghan society, as far as reconstructing the country goes. Also, almost everybody agrees that they are among the most underpaid and unempowered classes in Afghanistan. On the occasion of World Teachers’ Day, celebrated today in Afghanistan, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, who has just visited Badakhshan, takes a look at the present state of education in this province which, against all odds, has managed to keep up good standards and where students at least have continued studying throughout decades of turmoil.

The Battle for Schools in Ghazni – or, Schools as a Battlefield

Author: Fabrizio Foschini    Date: 3 July 2012

The anti-Taleban uprising by the people of Andar in the spring surprised many observers and, quite possibly, the insurgents themselves. This made it possible to portray it as a spontaneous struggle of local villagers for the right to education during its first weeks. Now, a month later, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini feels that, rather than risk describing something real in mystifying terms, we must look at the plausible reasons for all the actors involved to have acted as they have done – and consider the possible outcomes of their actions.

3. The Taliban and Education

The Ongoing Battle for Education. Uprisings, Negotiations and Taleban Tactics

Author: Antonio Giustozzi and Claudio Franco    Date: 10 June 2013

In a follow-up to a December 2011 report, AAN revisits the ongoing negotiations between the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Taleban. The earlier report, ‘The Battle for Schools: The Taleban and State Education’, focused on the changing Taleban attitudes towards Afghanistan’s state schools, allowing for the opening of schools in some of the areas under their control, and the negotiations with the MoE.

The Battle for Schools in Ghazni – or, Schools as a Battlefield

Author: Fabrizio Foschini    Date: 3 July 2012

The anti-Taleban uprising by the people of Andar in the spring surprised many observers and, quite possibly, the insurgents themselves. This made it possible to portray it as a spontaneous struggle of local villagers for the right to education during its first weeks. Now, a month later, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini feels that, rather than risk describing something real in mystifying terms, we must look at the plausible reasons for all the actors involved to have acted as they have done – and consider the possible outcomes of their actions.

Ministry of Education reacts to “The Battle for Schools”

Author: Martine van Bijlert     Date: 19 December 2011

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education has issued an official statement in Dari in response to AAN’s latest report “The Battle for the Schools”, in which it refutes all substance of the report, calls its findings fabricated and assures the great Afghan nation of its tireless efforts and the impeccable Islamic credentials of its curriculum. The full text of the statement is well-worth reading, for a variety of reasons. The flat-out denial by the Ministry of realities on the ground** and the refusal to engage with the pertinent dilemmas that the report raises, as well as the language used, unfortunately does not bode well for the discussions that need to be had in the light of possible future talks with the Taleban leadership.

The Battle for Education: The Taleban and State Education

Author: Antonio Giustozzi and Claudio Franco     Date: 13 December 2011    

The new AAN report ‘The Battle for Education: The Taleban and State Education’ by authors Antonio Giustozzi and Claudio Franco looks at the Taleban’s changing attitude towards state education. In the last two years, the Taleban have increasingly allowed schools to operate in areas under their control or influence, but this has come at a price – a more conservative curriculum and more mullahs employed as teachers in state schools.

Tactical or Genuine? The Taleban’s ‘new education policy’

Author: Thomas Ruttig    Date: 15 January 2011

This time, the Times Education Supplement (TES) has the latest scoop about the Taleban. The article with the headline ‘Taliban “backs girls’ education”’ has already been picked up around the world. But it is worth to look at the source of the sensational statement. It is not from Mulla Omar’s ‘Quetta shura’ but from Kabul’s education minister and AAN’s Thomas Ruttig has a few questions.


Education Higher Education ministry of education Ministry of Higher Education policies primary education universities