While the Afghan government is engaged in peace talks with the hard-line Taliban movement, radical Islamist groups are spreading their ideology at universities.
Basira Akhtar, a 22-year-old student, was beaten up twice earlier this year, at her university in the capital Kabul, when her headscarf slipped from her head. In both cases she was accused of being a bad Muslim and of promoting Christianity.
Radicalisation is growing, also among her professors, the law-student told the news site Gandhara. Meanwhile authorities also confirm radical groups like Islamic State (IS) use universities to spread their ideology and to recruit new fighters.
Since IS was driven out of Iraq and Syria, it appears to have its sights set on Afghanistan where the group is expanding, reported AP.
“The core [of IS militants in Afghanistan] consists of many disgruntled Taliban splinter groups and, reportedly, some returning fighters from Syria. They will try to attack in Afghanistan, just like the Indonesian couple who bombed the cathedral in Jolo, Philippines, in January,” said Thomas Muller, research analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit. “For Christians, this basically means that they need to continue to keep their faith hidden as well as possible,” he added.
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
IS, with its focus on a worldwide jihad, is perceived as the larger threat by U.S. and Afghan security officials, said AP. However, it is the Taliban hard-line Islamist group that has continued to launch deadly attacks in Afghanistan itself. On Wednesday (7 August) at least 15 were killed and another 150 people were injured in a bomb blast outside a police station in Kabul, as reported by the BBC.
The Taliban group, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, once controlled most of the country, where it implemented Sharia law. This was until the US-led invasion in 2001 – following the 9/11 attacks – which caused the group to morph into an insurgency movement.
While it is engaged in another round of peace talks with the US and the Kabul government, the Taliban is keen “to emphasize its power and show the government is weak and incapable”, continued Thomas Muller.
As for the potential for peace in Afghanistan, Muller said he was struck by the fact that the most heated discussions during the talks were around religion, as reported by the New York Times. “The dialogue was very passionate, with one of the most heated exchanges about who has the right and duty to interpret Islam. This shows that any hope of freedoms for religious minorities is still far off.”
It is illegal to be a Christian in majority-Muslim (99%) Afghanistan, which is 2nd on the Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Although the country officially does not have any among its population, except for expatriates, there are a few Christians who must worship in hiding. Although other religious minorities – such as Hindu and Sikhs – experience the same limitations as Christians, it is with more tolerance as they are not considered ‘Western’ and alien.