Kabul re-opens for men

April 25, 1997

Kabul University, which reopened last month with neither women students nor lecturers, has a new president.

Maulavi Pir Mohammad Rohani is a staunch member of the Islamic Taliban movement, which captured the Afghan capital in September last year. It has banned education for all females over the age of nine.

Maulavi Rohani's appointment demonstrates the Taliban's determination to take firm control of the university, Afghanistan's premier seat of learning. Many Afghan intellectuals fear that its traditions of academic freedom are in jeopardy.

But Mr Rohani said he has never opposed subjects like history, geography, logic and philosophy, all of which he said he studied himself.

"There is no reason for any Afghan intellectual to have reservations about my appointment," Mr Rohani said. "Scholars with Islamic links could have no hostility towards someone appointed by the leadership of the Taliban movement."

A Taliban committee is examining the university curriculum, but Mr Rohani said changes were unlikely in subjects that did not contravene the Islamic Sharia code of law. He said any courses breaching Sharia principles would be forbidden, but did not specify which.

The man Mr Rohani replaced is Amir Hassanyar, who has a doctorate in ecology from Colorado University in the United States. He wanted to run the university more along European lines and, before the Taliban captured Kabul, Dr Hassanyar had managed to get the university functioning, with women making up 40 per cent of the student body.

After the Taliban took control, Dr Hassanyar and the Taliban spokesman on higher education, Maulavi Hamdullah Nohmaani, appealed to western universities to re-establish links they had with Kabul before the Soviet invasion in 1979. Colleges in the US had previously helped the faculties of agriculture, engineering and education; France helped with medicine, law and political sciences; Germany with economics.

But this appeal has largely been ignored, because of the Taliban's policies towards women. Maulavi Nohmaani said the Taliban hope to reintegrate women into higher education once sexually-segregated institutions could be set up. But women would be barred until then.

United Nations agencies have suspended educational aid to areas of Afghanistan held by the Taliban. But the university badly needs funds. It was virtually destroyed in factional fighting after the fall of the Soviet-backed government in 1992, and its reconstruction is only partially complete.

Another problem is a shortage of lecturers, which has been exacerbated by the Taliban's ban on women teaching. The average salary for teaching staff is at present about $10 per month, and most have to find second and third jobs - with difficulty - to make ends meet.

Authorities at Balkh University, in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, have called for international aid to be concentrated in north Afghanistan, in areas not held by the Taliban. The university says it has experienced an influx of students from the south, mostly women.

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