Afghanistan’s terrified scientists predict huge research losses
For 20 years, science has blossomed in Afghanistan. Now many researchers are fleeing and those who remain face lost funding and the threat of persecution.
On Sunday 15 August, geologist Hamidullah Waizy was interviewing job candidates at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum in Kabul when he was told the Taliban had entered the city, and he must evacuate. The next morning, he saw armed militants on the streets. Waizy, a researcher at Kabul Polytechnic University who was recently also appointed director-general of prospecting and exploration of mines at the ministry, was shocked by the city’s rapid fall. Since then, he’s lived in limbo, mostly shuttered up in the relative safety of his home.
Across Kabul, most universities and public offices remain closed. The Taliban says it wants officials to continue working, but it is not clear what this will look like. “The future is very uncertain,” Waizy told Nature.
When the fundamentalist group last held the country, in 1996–2001, it brutally enforced a conservative version of Islamic Sharia law, characterized by women’s-rights violations and suppression of freedom of expression. But after it was overthrown in 2001, international funding poured into Afghanistan and universities thrived.
Now, academics fear for their own safety. They also worry that research will languish without money and personal freedoms, and because educated people will flee. Some fear that they could be persecuted for being involved in international collaborations, or because of their fields of study or their ethnicity.
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