Afghanistan’s education minister has painted a devastating picture of how the Taliban's return could overturn two decades of progress for women in the country.
Rangina Hamidi said she was confident in her country’s security forces, but feared a return to the dark days of 1996 when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan and heavily restricted the rights of girls and women.
But Ms Hamidi said that despite the problems, the government was determined to address the education issues in Afghanistan.
Violence is surging in Afghanistan as the Taliban expand their presence through rural areas of the country and clash with Afghan security forces.
Nato forces, which have been in Afghanistan in some form since 2001, are withdrawing from the country.
“My biggest fear is, God forbid, a return of 1996 when, literally, girls were pulled out of school, schools were shut down, female teachers were sent home, female workers in any sector were sent home,” Ms Hamidi, the first female Afghan education minister since the Taliban was ousted from Kabul in 2001, told The National.
“I'm hoping, and I have confidence in my government, that we will fight to not have that repeat itself."
The GPE is the only fund and partnership dedicated exclusively to transforming education in lower-income countries.
She also spoke of “the promise that the international community made 20 years ago, to all Afghan women and Afghan girls”.
Back then the UK, US and local allies pushed the Taliban out of power, offering the possibility of an education to those to whom it had been denied.
“If the move is to align the international community's commitment with the Taliban to come back in whatever shape or form they would like and without considering the gains of the past 20 years ... that's going to be a huge loss on the trust that the Afghan population had in the international community as well,” Ms Hamidi said.
Afghan government and Taliban representatives have been holding largely unsuccessful peace talks in Doha, Qatar amid the violence.
Ms Hamidi said much more work needed to be done to improve the Afghan education system.
While large investments in the education sector in the past two decades led to more schools opening, she said the quality had not been given enough attention.
Ms Hamidi, who took on the role of Education Minister last year, highlighted that pupils before the Communist coup in the late 1970s spent 40 per cent more time on reading and writing than today.
“When we graduate kids who are semi-illiterate, even after 12 years of giving their time to us, I do consider it a shame on the ministry's efforts. Why haven't we focused on the basics?
“Yes, it's wonderful to show to the international community that we've raised our bar graph on attracting more and more students year by year and building more schools.
"That's an important element, I'm not denying that. But how come we did not focus on the basics to help us bring the quality education that we needed?”
But she said perspective was important and that in 2001, the country was “recovering from zero”.
Ms Hamidi referred to a conversation she had with Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president from 2001-2014, who reminded her that 20 years ago, the goal was just getting the schools open and the children in.
“There's a lot of positives, we cannot deny that," she said. "The mere fact that schools have increased in their numbers.
"The amount of children going to school today beats any record in our history that we've had, even beyond the past 20 years.
“A lot of the progress is our young generation, the generation that has become adults in the past 20 years. They're a product of our education system, good or bad.”