The Taliban Higher Education Minister Who Is Against Female Education

By Abubakar Siddique

One of the Taliban’s main goals since seizing power in August 2021 has been to transform Afghanistan’s education system.

Since October, that task has fallen to Nida Mohammad Nadim, a hard-line cleric who was appointed as the minister for higher education.

A former governor and military commander, Nadim has vowed to root out all forms of the modern secular education that thrived in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban’s first regime. He has also voiced his opposition to education for girls and women, calling it un-Islamic and against Afghan values.

His comments have sparked controversies and fueled speculation that the Taliban is planning to further restrict female education.

The militants have already banned girls from attending high school and imposed gender segregation and a new dress code at universities. They have also banned women from applying for many university courses.

The Taliban has also vowed to overhaul the national curriculum and unveiled plans to build a vast network of madrasahs, or religious seminaries, across the country’s 34 provinces.

'Debauchery And Obscenity'

Since his appointment, Nadim has scrapped all of the rules and bylaws of the ministry tasked with regulating and overseeing public universities in Afghanistan. He has also appointed Taliban fighters as officials and teachers at universities, despite their lack of qualifications.

In a speech on December 4 in the western city of Herat, Nadim said that it would be “disrespectful” for members of the Taliban to take exams to determine their academic qualifications. He insisted that a Taliban fighter’s credentials were based on the “number of bombs” he had detonated.

Last month, Nadim also blasted Amanullah Khan, Afghanistan’s former reformist king who is widely regarded as a national hero for regaining the country’s independence from Britain in the early 20th century and his efforts to modernize Afghanistan.

Nadim accused the monarch of “bringing a recipe for debauchery and obscenity from foreign lands” by promoting female education in the 1920s. The Taliban official claimed that “education for women clashed with Islam and Afghan values.”

'A Bad Omen'

Observers said that Nadim’s appointment and rise within the Taliban suggest that the militant group is planning to impose a blanket ban on female education like during its first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

“His appointment to the higher education ministry is a bad omen,” said a Kabul-based analyst who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Nadim was appointed by the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has the final say under the clerically led system. Observers say that Akhundzada is steering the Taliban in an even more hard-line direction.

The Kabul-based analyst said Nadim is a member of a council of Taliban clerics who have advised Akhundzada since the group seized power last year.

Sami Yousafzai, a veteran Afghan journalist and commentator who has tracked the Taliban since its emergence in the 1990s, said Nadim has endeared himself to Akhundzada by implementing his orders and vision.

“He acts like a good soldier and obeys orders,” Yousafzai said. “He just wants to please the hard-line Taliban leaders pushing for a complete ban on women’s education.”

In a dramatic, last-minute decision, the Taliban backtracked on its pledge to reopen high schools for girls in Afghanistan in March, highlighting the divisions within the group. Observers said Akhundzada likely made the U-turn to appease Taliban ultraconservatives who are vehemently against any form of female education.

'Fear Of Their Leaders'

Nadim, who is believed to be in his 40s, established a madrasah in the southern province of Kandahar after the U.S.-led invasion. He later joined the Taliban and became a member of the group’s military commission in Kandahar.

Nadim earned the title Sheikh al-Hadith, a distinction reserved for the most eminent scholars of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings.

Observers have said that Nadim’s religious credentials have endeared him to Akhundzada, who has the same title and is respected among the Taliban as a scholar and jurist.

After the Taliban takeover, Nadim was appointed as the governor for the eastern province of Nangarhar. Following a reshuffle in February, he gained the coveted governorship of Kabul Province, which includes the capital.

A source with knowledge of the Taliban’s internal politics told RFE/RL that Nadim has aligned himself with powerful ultraconservative clerics close to Akhundzada. They include Abdul Hakim Haqqani, the Taliban’s chief justice, Mohammad Khalid Haqqani, the head of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and Education Minister Habibullah Agha.

The source said Nadim’s predecessor, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, had enraged ultraconservatives by allowing women to attend university.

The source said Nadim’s opposition to female education has angered some Taliban pragmatists who fear that the group’s restrictions on girls and women will prevent them from gaining international recognition and assistance.

“But they are unable to open their mouths for fear of their leaders,” the source said.