.
I

n December 2023, the world marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The United Nations often reminds its member-states that the UDHR “is a milestone document in the history of human rights” and “was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world,” including the entire Muslim world. “As a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations, UDHR sets out fundamental human rights to be universally protected.”

UDHR as a foundational document “is widely recognized as having inspired, and paved the way for, the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels,” according to the UN. Article 26 of the UDHR is dedicated to education as a basic human right, stipulating:

1.      Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. 

2.      Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

As an immediate beneficiary of this and other major UN declarations and treaties, Afghanistan became one of the earliest member-states of the UN, officially joining the inter-governmental body on 19 November 1946. Since then, the various legitimate and internationally recognized governments of Afghanistan have ratified most human rights treaties, knowing that sustainable peace and development begins with the full recognition and implementation of equal human rights of citizens.

Consistent with the basic tenets of Islam, which strongly encourage human enlightenment through “gaining knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” and Afghanistan’s egalitarian culture, the Afghan Constitution guarantees equal opportunity for both genders to gain an education as their basic human right. However, in the history of the world since 1948, it is only in Afghanistan where an extremist-terrorist group, the Taliban, has twice disrupted the constitutional order, depriving over half of the country’s population of human development.

From the Global Goals, which the international community unanimously adopted in 2015 to foster sustainable peace and development at home and in the rest of the world, we know that the Taliban’s anti-culture and anti-Islam bans on girls’ education has effectively condemned the suffering people of Afghanistan to perpetual insecurity, poverty, and disease. This should not be acceptable for any responsible state in the 21st century.

United Nations member states are obligated under the provisions of various human rights treaties, including commitments under the Global Goals, to help end the Taliban’s misogynistic ban on women’s empowerment through secondary and tertiary education. They should also question the efficacy and sustainability of such counterproductive alternatives as “madrasa education,” “community-based education,” and “online education,” which only accommodate unpredictable extremists and further deny Afghan women a formal, modern education underpinned by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

There is a wide body of research that supports the importance of STEM-based education as the key to unlocking the complexities of and realizing sustainable peace and development, consistent with the Global Goals. Afghan women and men shouldn’t be deprived of “quality education” (the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4) to contribute to lasting peace and prosperity at home and by extension in our wider region.  

“Madrasa education” under the Taliban is synonymous with the extremism-terrorism factories of Peshawar-Pakistan where the Taliban leadership and their foot-soldiers were radicalized by foreign intelligence operatives. The latter strategically twisted Islam and subjectively interpreted the teachings of the Holy Quran to rationalize the endless killing, violence, and destruction by the Taliban in Afghanistan between 2001-2021. The few educated clerics who were outspoken critics of the Taliban and their state-sponsor Pakistan were targeted and killed before 2021, while others have gone into permanent hiding. Most of the rest of mosque clerics lack formal education and are beholden to the Taliban. They hardly know anything useful to transfer to the Afghan children, who often end up being sexually harassed and molested in informal and tightly controlled spaces.  

In the same vein, “community-based education” and “online education,” which only complement formal education in other parts of the world, have limited application in the Afghan context where the Taliban could easily influence or disrupt their delivery through easy controls and intimidation. “Online education” is now globally known for its serious handicaps, thanks to the COVID-19 experience, affecting the overall quality of education and health of school children in the developed world, let alone the rest. In Afghanistan, where there is no reliable electricity or internet access and where people can’t afford the necessary technologies, “online education” can effectively imprison girls and women at home, directly contributing to the Taliban’s ban on women’s freedom of movement as another basic human right.

Consequently, the only alternative to formal education is modern education itself. Others are shortcuts that can be exploited to encourage and hasten the process of radicalizing Afghan youth away from the pursuit of employable education and skills that would guarantee them a sustainable livelihood in the global competitive marketplace. When prospectless youth are exposed to a globalized world but denied the opportunity to become responsible productive citizens, they easily fall prey to recruitment by diehard extremist groups, like the Taliban, intending to expand their “suicide terrorist brigade” with members coming from madrassas and other radicalizing entities.    

That is why despite their geopolitical differences, major member-states of the UN—including the United States, China, Russia, India, and leading member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—do share a self-interest in helping rationalize the status quo in Afghanistan. It is morally and legally incumbent upon the international community to help unshackle Afghanistan from the dark forces of extremism, terrorism, and criminality. These threats have grown in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan since 2021 and carry far-reaching implications for regional stability and international peace, as the UN has repeatedly warned its member-states in report after report.

With stabilization of Afghanistan in their shared self-interest, international stakeholders should translate their consensus into a tangible program of action under international law for implementation by the UN. This means leveraging their combined influence to help all Afghan sides, including the Taliban, form an inclusive government that enjoys internal legitimacy and external recognition, thereby permanently securing Afghans’ human rights, including the right to a formal education.

About
M. Ashraf Haidari
:
M. Ashraf Haidari is Afghanistan's former Ambassador to Sri Lanka.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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The Danger of Lacking a Right to Formal Education in Afghanistan

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

January 17, 2024

The right to formal education is espoused in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Afghanistan is a signatory. The international community has a responsibility to ensure Afghan girls are extended this right, writes Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari.

I

n December 2023, the world marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The United Nations often reminds its member-states that the UDHR “is a milestone document in the history of human rights” and “was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world,” including the entire Muslim world. “As a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations, UDHR sets out fundamental human rights to be universally protected.”

UDHR as a foundational document “is widely recognized as having inspired, and paved the way for, the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels,” according to the UN. Article 26 of the UDHR is dedicated to education as a basic human right, stipulating:

1.      Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. 

2.      Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

As an immediate beneficiary of this and other major UN declarations and treaties, Afghanistan became one of the earliest member-states of the UN, officially joining the inter-governmental body on 19 November 1946. Since then, the various legitimate and internationally recognized governments of Afghanistan have ratified most human rights treaties, knowing that sustainable peace and development begins with the full recognition and implementation of equal human rights of citizens.

Consistent with the basic tenets of Islam, which strongly encourage human enlightenment through “gaining knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” and Afghanistan’s egalitarian culture, the Afghan Constitution guarantees equal opportunity for both genders to gain an education as their basic human right. However, in the history of the world since 1948, it is only in Afghanistan where an extremist-terrorist group, the Taliban, has twice disrupted the constitutional order, depriving over half of the country’s population of human development.

From the Global Goals, which the international community unanimously adopted in 2015 to foster sustainable peace and development at home and in the rest of the world, we know that the Taliban’s anti-culture and anti-Islam bans on girls’ education has effectively condemned the suffering people of Afghanistan to perpetual insecurity, poverty, and disease. This should not be acceptable for any responsible state in the 21st century.

United Nations member states are obligated under the provisions of various human rights treaties, including commitments under the Global Goals, to help end the Taliban’s misogynistic ban on women’s empowerment through secondary and tertiary education. They should also question the efficacy and sustainability of such counterproductive alternatives as “madrasa education,” “community-based education,” and “online education,” which only accommodate unpredictable extremists and further deny Afghan women a formal, modern education underpinned by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

There is a wide body of research that supports the importance of STEM-based education as the key to unlocking the complexities of and realizing sustainable peace and development, consistent with the Global Goals. Afghan women and men shouldn’t be deprived of “quality education” (the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4) to contribute to lasting peace and prosperity at home and by extension in our wider region.  

“Madrasa education” under the Taliban is synonymous with the extremism-terrorism factories of Peshawar-Pakistan where the Taliban leadership and their foot-soldiers were radicalized by foreign intelligence operatives. The latter strategically twisted Islam and subjectively interpreted the teachings of the Holy Quran to rationalize the endless killing, violence, and destruction by the Taliban in Afghanistan between 2001-2021. The few educated clerics who were outspoken critics of the Taliban and their state-sponsor Pakistan were targeted and killed before 2021, while others have gone into permanent hiding. Most of the rest of mosque clerics lack formal education and are beholden to the Taliban. They hardly know anything useful to transfer to the Afghan children, who often end up being sexually harassed and molested in informal and tightly controlled spaces.  

In the same vein, “community-based education” and “online education,” which only complement formal education in other parts of the world, have limited application in the Afghan context where the Taliban could easily influence or disrupt their delivery through easy controls and intimidation. “Online education” is now globally known for its serious handicaps, thanks to the COVID-19 experience, affecting the overall quality of education and health of school children in the developed world, let alone the rest. In Afghanistan, where there is no reliable electricity or internet access and where people can’t afford the necessary technologies, “online education” can effectively imprison girls and women at home, directly contributing to the Taliban’s ban on women’s freedom of movement as another basic human right.

Consequently, the only alternative to formal education is modern education itself. Others are shortcuts that can be exploited to encourage and hasten the process of radicalizing Afghan youth away from the pursuit of employable education and skills that would guarantee them a sustainable livelihood in the global competitive marketplace. When prospectless youth are exposed to a globalized world but denied the opportunity to become responsible productive citizens, they easily fall prey to recruitment by diehard extremist groups, like the Taliban, intending to expand their “suicide terrorist brigade” with members coming from madrassas and other radicalizing entities.    

That is why despite their geopolitical differences, major member-states of the UN—including the United States, China, Russia, India, and leading member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—do share a self-interest in helping rationalize the status quo in Afghanistan. It is morally and legally incumbent upon the international community to help unshackle Afghanistan from the dark forces of extremism, terrorism, and criminality. These threats have grown in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan since 2021 and carry far-reaching implications for regional stability and international peace, as the UN has repeatedly warned its member-states in report after report.

With stabilization of Afghanistan in their shared self-interest, international stakeholders should translate their consensus into a tangible program of action under international law for implementation by the UN. This means leveraging their combined influence to help all Afghan sides, including the Taliban, form an inclusive government that enjoys internal legitimacy and external recognition, thereby permanently securing Afghans’ human rights, including the right to a formal education.

About
M. Ashraf Haidari
:
M. Ashraf Haidari is Afghanistan's former Ambassador to Sri Lanka.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.