Taliban failures accelerate Afghan brain drain, hitting already crippled economy (Part I)

The mass exodus triggered by the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021 has forced Afghanistan’s new leaders to appeal to Afghans to stay and help rebuild the country. But after a year of Taliban rule, the economy is in tatters, trust has been shattered and Afghanistan’s best and brightest aren’t coming back – they’re fleeing in droves.

A few days before her interview with an admissions officer at a US university, Huma Usyan went to her local internet service provider in Kabul to try to make sure her connection wouldn’t drop during the very busy online meeting. expected.

The internet has been both a lifeline and a source of stress for the Afghan teenager since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

When the new rulers banned secondary schools for Afghan girls, Usyan turned to the internet in a desperate attempt to continue her education. In an interview with FRANCE 24 in October 2021, the high school student recounted the challenges of her online self-study course.

>> Read more: Online education is Afghan schoolgirl’s only hope, but it’s hard work

After several months of online studies – helped by volunteers, including an English teacher, galvanized by the exceptional motivation of the Afghan schoolgirl – Usyan finally managed to pass the interview stage at an American university.

But the internet connection for the critical January 8 interview was out of the 16-year-old’s control.

The Taliban takeover has plunged Afghanistan into extreme economic crisis, with domestic policies – or lack thereof – combining with global trends to create a humanitarian storm.

The Internet needs electricity to function. But in a country where power cuts have long necessitated the use of generators, fuel prices have soared, with the price of diesel rising 111% from a year ago, according to the World Food Programme. United Nations.

So when Usyan tried to get assurances from her local internet service provider, she failed miserably. “They said they had no electricity, the generators were very expensive and they did nothing,” she said.

Never one to give up in the face of adversity, Usyan went to an aunt’s flat in Kabul, where service was a bit more reliable, for the selection interview. She succeeded. Within weeks, the hardworking Afghan student received a letter of admission, along with a full scholarship, to the university of her choice: United World College in New Mexico, USA.

On Saturday July 30 – almost a year after the Taliban takeover – Usyan finally landed in the United States. His family, including his mother and four siblings, were traveling to the Netherlands to join his father, who left Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took power.

Huma Usyan arrives at Islamabad Airport in Pakistan from Kabul on July 7, 2022. © Documents

It marked the end of a long journey for the Afghan schoolgirl which started from Kabul to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where she spent three weeks before getting her US visa.

Usyan was lucky. With US and Western embassies in Kabul closed, Afghan nationals are being forced to travel to neighboring Pakistan. High demand has attracted touts, travel agents and middlemen, driving the cost of a Pakistani visa to $1,000 in recent weeks.

But for Usyan, the stress, hard work and hardship was worth it. Arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was “amazing,” Usyan said in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “It was very different from my expectations. Here in Santa Fe, it’s more like my village in Afghanistan. There are houses, gardens… I was expecting tall buildings. But here, the houses are only one storey. I feel like I am in my village in Daikundi,” a- she said, referring to her ancestral province in Afghanistan’s central Hazarajat region.

Afghanistan’s Best and Brightest Leaves

Migration from Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon. After more than four decades of conflict, Afghans constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with an estimated 2.6 million registered refugees from the country, according to the UN. The real figure is probably much higher.

But the scale of the exodus in the days of panic following the Taliban’s lightning takeover last year was unprecedented. As thousands of desperate Afghans thronged Kabul airport, some clinging to and even falling from departing planes, the country’s brain drain was tragic.

As hundreds of thousands of the country’s best and brightest tried to board departing flights, Taliban leaders called on educated Afghans to stay and help rebuild the country. Zabihullah Mujahid, the movement’s wise media spokesman, accused the United States of encouraging “Afghan experts” to leave. At a press conference in Kabul a few days after taking power, Mujahid promised a general amnesty, swearing that “no one will be hurt in Afghanistan”.

But a year after the Taliban took power, none of the Islamist group’s promises have materialized. The new regime’s crackdown on people associated with the previous administration has seen many Afghans head to neighboring Pakistan or Iran after airlifts ended.

Among them were some of Afghanistan’s brightest students, young people like Usyan, who are a developing country’s greatest intellectual asset and key to future growth and stability.

The loss could also have regional and global security implications as the Taliban enters the second year of its second rule – after its disastrous first rule, which began in 1996 and effectively ended with the 9/11 attacks. against America.

The day of the reopening of the school which was not

After waging an insurgency for nearly 20 years, when the Taliban finally got what they wanted on August 15, 2021, they entered Kabul without a governance plan.

The confusion that passes for their ill-defined vision of an Islamic “emirate” was brought to light seven months into their rule. It effectively killed the hopes of half of the Afghan population of 38 million.

Following concerted international pressure, the Taliban announced earlier this year that on March 23, the start of the spring semester, girls’ high schools would open.

But on the day school reopened, as high school girls gathered on campuses across the country for their first day of classes, they were once again disappointed. The Taliban suddenly, and at the very last minute, reversed the decision. The grief of young girls breaking down in tears outside schools was captured live by national and international news crews.

“Girls’ education is a very, very important factor in many Afghans leaving because they simply couldn’t send their daughters and sisters to school. Many initially chose to stay in Afghanistan because they felt the country needed them. They are now desperately trying to leave because their daughters and sisters are actually imprisoned and they think they miscalculated,” said Tamim Asey, co-founder of the Institute for War and Peace Studies. Kabul-based peacemaker and former Afghan deputy defense minister.

Kandahar asserts itself on Kabul

Women’s rights are a major stumbling block in the Taliban’s bid for international recognition, which could in turn lead to the unfreezing of Afghan bank assets frozen in the United States. Reopening secondary schools for girls, a minimum political requirement, is arguably the easiest move the Taliban can make to achieve this goal.

But the March 23 women’s education reversal exposed the rifts between what some experts call the “Doha Taliban” – who negotiated a US withdrawal agreement in the Qatari capital – and the “Kandahari faction” around the reclusive leader of the movement, Hibatullah Akhundzada, based in the birthplace of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Despite claims of Taliban unity, there are signs that the regime has developed splits between “rival power centers” in Kabul and Kandahar. Just days before schools reopened on March 23, Afghanistan’s education minister was suddenly summoned from Kabul to Kandahar, according to The New York Times. The Kabul faction, including the Minister of Education, who announced the decision to allow girls to attend secondary school, was read by the conservative clique in Kandahari. “Kandahar had imposed itself on Kabul”, noted the Times.

(Click here for part II of our report on the brain drain in Afghanistan)