The following article was written by Shaahid Bashir* as part of our “Life under the Taliban“ series of articles. Women and men from different parts of the country and with different perspectives and realities tell us their stories. Shaahid Bashir studied at Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences and worked in a private school in Kabul. Since the Taliban took power two years ago, he has seen his dreams for a future in Afghanistan shattered. In the end, like so many others in Afghanistan, he may have no choice but to leave.
Many parents can't afford rising school fees
I used to work as the assistant principal at Gam School, a private school in Kabul. I started out as an assistant, but my ongoing commitment and dedication led to my promotion to principal. I had hoped to improve and give the school the best version of myself. Sadly, these hopes were dashed on the 15th of August 2021, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. My life changed drastically as a result of the Taliban takeover. The significant drop in student enrollment prompted Gam School to start a restructuring process within its senior hierarchy. Many parents struggled to pay rising tuition fees, which resulted in a sizable number of students quitting school. Numerous private schools in Afghanistan have closed as a result of the economic downturn. Additionally, private universities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and businesses closed their doors, worsening Afghanistan’s unemployment crisis.
The younger generation, including both men and women, has suffered significant harm as a result of these intertwined economic and political crises. Women are denied their fundamental right to an education, while men like me, who are the main providers for our families, find themselves jobless and dejected. I feel hopeless about my job prospects despite having a bachelor’s degree in business administration from a reputable Pakistani institution and two years of managerial and administrative experience. For non-Taliban individuals working for government institutions, there are few to no opportunities. The Taliban considers their jihadist fighters to be the best candidates, so positions are primarily given to them.
Although optimism eludes me, I continue to persist in my efforts to obtain a governmental position. Highly competitive organizations like the United Nations and international NGOs prioritize candidates with extensive experience and advanced English language proficiency, criteria that seem insurmountable to me. Employment in these international NGOs is also often based on one’s connections with expatriates from other countries.
Isolation amid Restrictions
The imposition of a travel ban is an urgent issue facing Afghanistan. My only options for travel as a holder of an Afghan passport are to Dubai, Qatar, Iran, and Pakistan, and even travel to these regions requires justification. My family, however, lives in India, and I do not have a practical way to travel there. I have gone nearly three years without being able to see my loved ones, which has made me feel confined and alone. It seems as though we are in a totally different universe. The cityscape resembles a prison cell, and the ruling regime cultivates a sense of distance, creating the impression that I am imprisoned or estranged from my home country and have no way out unless I obtain a scholarship or follow a regular immigration pathway with legitimate travel documents. Should I decide to leave the country, it would take over a year to get an appointment at the passport office to renew my passport, which would feel even more imprisoning. Fundamental rights have been denied to me and to fellow citizens like me who desire to migrate for a better life. My passport is about to expire, and I need to renew it or apply for a new one, but the Interior Ministry of the Taliban has stopped issuing new passports because they are worried about a mass exodus.
In a country where male privilege is usually beneficial, I find myself empathizing with the difficulties women face, which are exemplified by my cousin’s predicament. She was denied the right to an education, one of her most fundamental human rights, at the age of seventeen. Her journey was abruptly cut short in the tenth grade when the Taliban took over Kabul, and she has not been able to complete her education. Her hope for a better future is now in ruins, broken into countless pieces. Because Afghan women are denied the fundamental rights afforded to other women all over the world, she feels emotionally alone and increasingly frustrated. For the past two years, she has been preoccupied with household and cooking duties. She is tenaciously clinging to her educational goals despite her obligations, putting a particular emphasis on reading and writing. She is diligently investigating free online courses that fit her interests during her downtime and is trying to devote as much time and energy to these courses as possible.
Perils for Dissenters and Former Government Associates
An extremely worrying development has merged amid the backdrop of political unrest, economic decline, pervasive poverty, rampant unemployment, and the erosion of fundamental human rights: the peril faced by those connected to the previous administration. On the early morning of July 7, 2023, a group of Taliban fighters raided my uncle’s store located in the center of Kabul. Actions like this are taken not only against former government employees but also against people who dare to express dissent against the ruling regimes or openly discuss the difficulties posed by the change in power. His communication devices were brazenly taken during the intrusive raid, which upended the established order and intimidated the nearby shop owners into silence. He was then captured and taken to a secret prison in a location that he was unable to recognize. He was held there for stressful thirteen days, under constant observation, in a small room with a dozen other prisoners, with only one toilet available to him. Contrary to our surprise, on the fourteenth day, he was miraculously released with a strict warning not to criticize the Taliban government. Sadly, my uncle is still unsure of the circumstances surrounding his detention and the reasons for his arrest.
Rethinking Education’s Value Amid Unemployment and Migration
People all over the world consider themselves fortunate to have received an education and a degree, which in turn gives them the ability to make contributions to society. I have also held this opinion. My perspective has since changed as a result of my awareness of my own situation and how my generation struggles with unemployment and poverty. I have developed a limited view of the value of education in my context over the past few years, and feel that I have not had the opportunity to offer society any observable benefits during this time. I initially intended to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree; however, given the dire circumstances in which my family and country find themselves, I am now considering the possibility of migrating irregularly to a European country to find refuge and support my family. Due to the pressing need to provide for my family, I have no choice but to put my family’s financial needs ahead of furthering my education. When compared to others like me, who are citizens of a war-torn nation, the idea of education as a prized asset seems more applicable to the privileged than to the judged.
* Name changed by the editor