During four decades of sustained civil war and violent conflict, Afghanistan has paid a heavy price. Aside from causing numerous casualties, the Taliban and other terrorist groups have also directly attacked knowledge and education in the country. Since the days of their dark regime (1996-2001), the Taliban have always been opposed to education, particularly for girls.
In the years following the fall of their regime in 2001, the Taliban and other terrorist groups have killed thousands of innocent victims, including many educators throughout Afghanistan. The evidence highlights how these terrorist groups have no respect whatsoever for education, and least of all equal access to education for boys and girls.
The right to education is guaranteed in almost every multilateral human rights treaty that has ever been accepted at an international or regional level. Furthermore, rights to education are protected in more than 140 national constitutions.
Education is also protected in situations of armed conflict or territorial occupation. Specific provisions are in place to ensure that refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons are not deprived of a fundamental education.
The core features of the right to education as contained in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have also attained statues of rules in customary international law.
Attacks on educational institutions anywhere in the world, even in the conflict zones, are rightly condemned as war crimes and violations of human rights. Nevertheless, for the past two decades, the terrorist groups in Afghanistan have continued to perpetrate these atrocities.
Recently, on November 2, 2020, a terrorist attack was carried out in Kabul University, Afghanistan’s largest educational center. At least 22 people were killed, including both male and female students, and a further 22 were injured when gunmen stormed Kabul University. This brutal assault saw students left in pools of blood in their classrooms. The following day, President Ghani announced a national day of mourning.
Although ISIS claimed responsibility for this terrorist attack, government officials in Afghanistan have attributed it to the Taliban, who rejected this claim. It was the second time in less than two weeks that an educational institution was targeted in the capital.
A suicide bombing took place on October 23, 2020, outside the Kawasar-e Danish educational center in the west of Kabul, killing 30 students and injuring over 70 more. Targeting members of a religious minority community, the victims of this atrocity were mostly aged between 15 and 26 years and were attending classes.
In another tragic attack, on August 24, 2016, members of the Taliban stormed the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, using a car bomb and automatic weapons. In that attack, 13 people were killed, including seven students and a professor. A further 53 people were injured.
However, these atrocities represent only a small number of the attacks on educational institutions in Afghanistan since 2001. Attacks such as these clearly show that the terrorist groups aim not only to attack people, but also knowledge. According to UNAMA, from January to September 2020, a total of 5,939 civilians were targeted, of which 2,117 were killed and 3,822 wounded during the fighting in Afghanistan.
Extremists’ message of fear to students
There is no doubt that educational institutions, particularly universities, play an important role in the development of leaders. Universities also represent an opportunity to promote a message of liberty. These institutions also help young people avoid the pitfalls of extremism, setting them on a path towards knowledge instead of fundamentalism.
At present, the countries most affected by violent conflict tend also to be places where education has not been adequately supported. In the case of Afghanistan, the terrorist groups are afraid of education and knowledge. They fear a generation that is well educated and has been exposed to the ideas of liberty based on mutual respect and understanding.
Therefore, when the pursuit of knowledge and liberty is enabled, terrorist groups become angered. They wish to make young people too afraid to attend educational institutions.
However, the doors of universities will not be shut. Extremist groups are not easily able to entice an educated generation of young people who see their atrocities for what they are. Those who oppose education are against liberty, humanity, and basic democratic principles.
As a young Afghan, I am deeply concerned by the increase of terrorist attacks on educational centers. However, I do believe that Afghanistan’s youth will not give up and will continue with their education. These attacks may kill more of us, yet they will remain unable to break our determination and motivation. Although we all must die eventually, it is infinitely preferable to do so with knowledge and liberty.
Since I joined the Students for Liberty family, I have learned so much about the main values of liberty and its importance in societies. This journey has made me a stronger person, able to fight for liberty through education. Students For Liberty’s vision of “a global network of leaders advancing liberty in all aspects of society” always motivates me to keep moving forward.
Furthermore, Students For Liberty’s mission, to “educate, develop, and empower the next generation of leaders of liberty” is particularly important in the fight for liberty in a country like Afghanistan. To conclude, I reiterate my firm commitment to promoting the ideas of liberty throughout my society and beyond, in the hope of some day witnessing a freer world.
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Edited by Russell Coates
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.