September 3, 2021 – Scientific research becomes one of the casualties as the Taliban once again take control of Afghanistan, say experts who have lived and worked in the region.
Kenneth Holland, Ph.D., Dean of Academics, Research, and International Affairs at OP Jindal Global University in India, was President of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul from 2017 to 2019.
“The people of Afghanistan are losing one of their most important national assets – the scientific mind,” he told WebMD.
Holland says the researchers, funded by the US government and grants from other Western organizations, “are now at risk, because the Taliban considers anyone working for the US or its allies ‘traitors’.”
Over the past decade, the Netherlands says, there has been a significant increase in the quantity and quality of scientific research conducted in Afghanistan.
He noted that the Ministry of Higher Education, with the catalyst of one of the major donors, the World Bank, changed the academic promotion criteria 5 years ago.
“For the first time, faculty members were asked to publish articles in international refereed journals in order to be promoted to professor,” he explains.
The World Bank-funded Higher Education Development Project awarded grants to faculty members who submitted strong research proposals to the Ministry of Higher Education.
USAID’s Higher Education and Universities Support and Workforce Development Project have funded science lab upgrades and the training of lab assistants and technicians.
“The Taliban are suspicious of science in general and scientific research in particular, because they consider Western science to be ‘anti-Islamic,'” Holland says. “There are no internal sources of funding for scientific research, and external funding sources are suspicious, especially those in the West.”
In an article in the language of temper natureHamidullah Waizi, a researcher at Kabul Polytechnic University, said most universities and public offices remain closed across Kabul.
Offices are closed
The article explains that the Taliban say they want officials to continue working, but it is not clear what that means.
“The future is very uncertain,” Wiese said. temper natureHe added that he was looking for safety at home.
Academics reach out to colleagues in other countries for help.
Dr. Shukrdokht Jafari grew up in Afghanistan, and her family was forced to flee to Iran when war broke out when she was six years old.
She told WebMD that she has worked in Surrey in the UK for the past decade, and is a Visiting researcher at the University of SyriaBut she returned from time to time to work as a medical physicist and lecturer in Kabul.
“Because I was among the minority scholars [in Afghanistan]I felt insecure and my family unsafe.”
Jafari says she needed the safety and technology capabilities of the UK for her business to succeed.
She is best known to her international colleagues for establishing her own research firm, TRUE INVIVO, which is developing radiation detection technology to track the amount and spread of radiotherapy In cancer patients to help doctors more accurate doses.
She says that in the past week alone, she has heard from more than 1,000 researchers asking her for help and advice on continuing their work.
“They’re so confused,” she says. “They’re terrified. They’re in hiding.”
Jafari says she is looking for help from outside governments that can help her colleagues continue their work outside Afghanistan until they can return safely.
Scientists should be taken to a safe place, and then helped to integrate their skills into appropriate professional work, she says, so they don’t end up as taxi drivers.
She says she has been accused of “contributing to the brain drain” in Afghanistan, but that once the situation is safe, “these researchers become nationalist enough to return to Afghanistan.”
“I ask the scientific community in other countries not to forget the scientists of Afghanistan,” she says.
that editorial in a temper nature On Wednesday he made a similar appeal.
calls for help
“Researchers at risk should be able to leave and resume their lives in countries that can provide them with safety and security,” the editorial said. “But at the same time, research leaders in countries neighboring Afghanistan – and those far away – must work hard to support those Afghans who reside, and who must not be forgotten or neglected.”
The Organization of Scientists in Danger issued an urgent Call for help.
Among the requests from European governments and EU institutions are “a waiver of any requirements relating to the intent to return and stay in the homeland that may apply to visa applications for Afghan scholars and researchers for the foreseeable future.”
The Scholars at Risk website says that several European higher education institutions are willing to host the scientists temporarily, and asks government leaders “to seize this opportunity by accelerating the processing of individuals who are willing to move forward, and to provide logistical support”.