Kabul Must Protect Nangarhar University from “Talibanization”

A threat to higher education in Afghanistan is the “Talibanization” of Nangarhar University.


Nangrahar University. Credit: havaafghanistan.com

Nangarhar University is located in the geostrategically important eastern region of Afghanistan.

The university was founded 50 years ago and is one of the largest universities in the country. Today the university has grown to a size of 13 faculties, with three new faculties established in the last two years. According to the university administration Nangarhar University has close to 14,000 students and more than 400 teaching staff.

Nangarhar University is one of the top universities of the country that has highly qualified teaching staff with about 74 percent of all lecturers holding a master’s degree and 4 percent holding a PhD.

I was on an official visit to Nangarhar University last week. By walking through its entrance gate I precipitously realized how desperately the university needs fundamental works. In spite of the beautiful surroundings, Nangarhar University faces real challenges with clean water supply, electricity, buildings, internal university roads and Internet.

I walked through a dusty road inside the university to reach the chancellor’s office. I was greeted in the Afghan style with green tea and sweets. The chancellor was a very humble person. We discussed the academic programs of the university as well as future agendas and challenges. The chancellor also told me how he is collecting donations from local merchants to pave the internal university road.

However, the real challenge is not the water supply or electricity. The real challenge that may ruin not only the future of Nangarhar University but may have severe repercussions on the entire higher education system is the “Talibanization” of the school.

“A large number of students at Nangarhar University work for Taliban and other terrorist groups. Just last year, more than 10 students were killed in the battle with Afghan security forces. Many others are still in jail. The university officials are fully aware of this challenge but are unable to cope with,” said a senior official of Nangarhar University, requesting anonymity.

“Students are students during the day here and in the night they are Taliban and al-Qaeda,” he added.

I further sought to certify the information I received from Nangarhar University official, but regrettably the information I received was confirmed by many students and other officials. Indeed, hard evidence has emerged that in the past few years, the school has been infiltrated by Taliban cells who exploit the conditions of campus life in order to organize attacks on various government agencies, NGOs and private firms in Nangarhar and other parts of the country.

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Looking back to the history of revolutions in Afghanistan, the majority of them started from public universities. The university students remained involved in political movements throughout the history of this country. However, what is happening now in Nangarhar University is tragic and horrific for the emerging Afghan higher education system.

Many students are involved neck-deep in terrorist activities and many others support them. If the government detains one of them, hundreds of others will close the university and will take to the streets against the arrest of a particular student. Such acts not only troubled the academic environment of the university but also dispirited many donor agencies to assist Nangarhar University.

There is no doubt that Afghanistan is still in war and no one who examines the evidence can be in any doubt that Nangarhar University is now deeply, if unwittingly and unwillingly, ensnared in the Taliban nexus. It is very important for the new Afghan government to act, and act immediately. However, taking action against Taliban students in Nangarhar University is by no means easy.

The government should introduce a series of measures including banning all political parties from operating in the University. The government should conduct proper screening to exclude dangerous students, particularly from the Taliban.

The Nangarhar University should also play a role in the identification of Taliban students in informing government authorities. After all, this is the prime responsibility of both the Afghan government and the University administration to turn the academic environment into a safe haven for students and not for Taliban and their followers.

Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a master’s degree from Japan in Public Policy and Economics. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afghanistan. Farhan can be reached at haseebnadiri@gmail.com. Read other articles by Ahmad.