KABUL – Kabul University, among Afghanistan’s oldest and most revered institutions of higher education, reopened Saturday for the first time since the Taliban takeover six months ago. Men and women attended, but now were segregated, with women required to wear Islamic dress.
Dozens of female students, all wearing the hijab, the veil worn by Muslim women, lined up outside the university gate. They were eager to resume classes cut abruptly short in the wake of the Taliban’s August takeover. Taliban stood guard at the campus's three entrances. Previously the university was co-educational, with men and women taking classes together.
Most of the students said Saturday they didn’t know what to expect but were surprised to discover they could resume regular coursework and advance in their chosen fields of study. The university largely follows the U.S. liberal arts model.
“After much delay, fortunately, all universities and educational institutions started today Feb. 26,” Taliban spokesman for the Higher Education Ministry Ahmad Taqqi said in a video clip to AP. “The education will continue based on the plans and policies of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
The music department was the only discipline canceled for both males and females, returning students told The Associated Press. The Taliban did not respond to further AP requests for comment.
“There have been no changes made to the syllabus,” said Bahija Aman, 21, a third-year anthropology major. “The instructors are the same in my classes.”
“I am happy they have finally let us return to university,” she added.
Aman has spent the last six months at home. Her text books are neatly piled on her desk, where she has spent most of her time keeping up with her studies. As a top student, she was determined to keep her rank when universities reopened, she said.
She hopes to graduate and eventually earn a doctorate, all in Afghanistan.
Once attended by 22,000 students, the much-anticipated opening was a quiet affair.
Media requests to enter the premises were denied by the Taliban. A statement on the university's official Facebook page this week announced that students would return to classes Saturday and that classes would adhere to religious and cultural values.
Like most public universities, Kabul University had closed in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover. The issue of whether women would be able to return without restrictions has been a key concern of the international community. Many feared the Taliban would bar females as happened during the group’s previous rule from 1996-2001.
The Taliban have said they don’t object to education for women but require classes to be segregated and based on Islamic principles as they understand them. Some public universities re-opened earlier this month in the provinces of Lagham, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Nimroz, Farah and Helmand.
Some Taliban officials have also stated that female students should be taught exclusively by female instructors. This was never an explicitly stated government policy, however. Returning students said their instructors were both male and female, highlighting possible challenges in recruiting new instructors.
Despite the lack of a formal ban, girls grade seven and up have effectively been barred from going to school in most of the country since the Taliban’s takeover six months ago. The Taliban have said girls will be able to return to school by late March.
Access to education is a key demand of the international community, and the Taliban have blamed delays on lack of adequate space, especially in cities, to accommodate segregated schooling.
The new restrictions were spelled out by instructors to the Saturday morning cohort of female students. They were to wear the Islamic head-covering and could not bring smartphones to the university premises. Male students attend courses in the afternoon.
But little else appears to have changed. Kabul University posted a list of vacancies earlier this month on its Facebook page, including positions in the departments of art, public policy, literature, media and communications, and political science.
For Aman, the restrictions are a small concession to make. “I am loyal to the rule of law, I will follow it. But I hope there won't be more changes.”