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Taliban takeover American University of Afghanistan (AUAF)

In August 2021, when the US withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the country was taken over by the Taliban, the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), one of the premier universities in the country set up by Americans and run on western educational principles, could no longer function in Afghanistan. Following the capture of Kabul by Taliban forces and the collapse of the pro-Western government of Afghanistan, the university moved to Doha, Qatar, where it is temporarily based and has resumed most of its operations online. In August 2022, Ian Bickford, the president of AUAF, confirmed to a US-based radio channel that the university was looking to open a campus in Qatar.

Photo credits: Inside Higher Ed

Now, a little more than a year later, the Taliban have taken over the AUAF campus and its buildings with the intention of creating a university based on strict Islamic principles and have immediately renamed AUAF to Afghan International University (AIU). Although the Taliban government had publicly declared their intention of creating a new higher education institution, they had not announced its location, but recently a banner has appeared on the West Campus displaying the new name in different languages. The Taliban Deputy Minister for Higher Education has stated that AIU will be the 40th public university in Afghanistan and cater to postgraduates. However, as one of the most dangerous places in the world for education, Afghanistan is experiencing a large deficit in the number of professors. About 400 university professors have left the country since the Taliban came to power, while many other faculty and students who could not leave the country have gone into hiding.

The Taliban have long considered AUAF an enemy, due to its Western style pedagogy and its funding from the United States, including USAID. In 2016, the Taliban attacked the campus, killing at least 15 students and staff. After the attack, the AUAF resumed classes only to stop them altogether since the Taliban came into power in Fall 2021. A large number of AUAF students have gone into hiding in fear that they would be seen as associated with the American university. While some students were evacuated as part of the agreement between the U.S and the Taliban, evacuations have now stalled, with the AUAF management concerned about the students still in the country. The AUAF management has declared it will return to its Kabul campus as soon as conditions allow but until then will remain in Qatar. They have also made efforts to relocate their students who are currently in Afghanistan to Doha, Qatar. According to the university administration more than half of their students have left the country and they are trying to relocate the rest to Qatar as soon as possible. Recently, one of these efforts was interrupted by the Taliban. The government forces stopped 62 female AUAF students from leaving the country, as they were traveling without a male guardian.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) stands with all Afghan students and scholars whose lives, careers, and education are at risk since the Taliban’s return to power. ESW recognizes and condemns the travel and education restrictions placed on especially women and girls by the Taliban. We also denounce the continued decision to refuse young girls into classrooms, using harassment and threats to keep them from their education.

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