Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

The Emergent Taleban-Defined University: Enforcing a top-down reorientation and unquestioning obedience under ‘a war of thoughts’

S Reza Kazemi 2 min

Since the takeover around two years ago in August 2021, the Taleban have sought to overhaul and reinvent Afghanistan’s higher education. They have put their affiliates in charge at the ministry and many public universities, created new bodies to promote religious institutions and incorporate them into the higher education system and reshaped curricula with a focus on religious studies. They have undertaken to monitor conduct and imposed strict rules on appearance and behaviour on both male and female students, before banning women from higher education altogether in December 2022. This report, based on research by guest author Said Reza Kazemi* details this steady process of Talebanisation, theocratisation and instrumentalisation, fuelled by the Taleban concept of the fekri jagra, or ‘war of thoughts’, and explores its wide-ranging impact on students, lecturers and staff. It concludes that the Taleban-defined university, where reorientation is enforced from the top and unquestioning obedience is required, has already emerged, but questions about its (near) future are far from settled.

Ceremony to mark the reopening of Sheikh Zayed University in Khost city. Photo: Sardar Shafaq/Anadolu Agency via AFP, 26 February 2022.

You can preview the report online and download it by clicking the link below.

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.

You can preview the report online and download it by clicking the link below.


Higher Education Taleban Taliban women education