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Taliban attitudes and policies towards education

Working papers

Written by Ashley Jackson

Hero image description: Education in Afghanistan, March 2014 Image credit:GPE/Jawad Jalali Image license:CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Key messages

  • There are significant debates and differences of opinion within the Taliban on education. There is a tension between the preferences of the Taliban’s traditionalists and hardliners, and those who recognise that Afghanistan needs more diverse and more modern ideas and approaches within its education system. Even so, there is still a far stronger emphasis on, and preference for, Islamic education.
  • The Taliban’s education policies are aspirational – and practices on the ground often differ from or fall short of ‘the rules’. The Taliban has had a long tradition of articulating bureaucratic ambitions before having the resources and coherence to realise them. Written policies, however, signal the Taliban’s intended direction of travel and its vision for the future.
  • Many of the most contentious aspects of Taliban policy, such as female education, are barely addressed within the official ‘rules’. This ambiguity allows the Taliban to accommodate various opinions within the movement and adopt a wide range of practices on the ground. It has also enabled the Taliban to sidestep pressures from the international community, which would like to see a more progressive stance, and potential resistance from more conservative elements, who would object to any such shift.
  • Education in Afghanistan is heavily reliant on international aid – a fact which the Taliban does not readily acknowledge. This raises questions about whether the Taliban adequately understands how essential international support is to maintaining access to education, and how the Taliban would react to donor conditions on aid in the future.

This paper is an output of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at ODI. The Centre provides rigorous analysis, tailored solutions and a safe space in which to discuss the challenges of understanding and engaging with armed groups. 

Rahmatullah Amiri and Ashley Jackson