SANCTUARY OFHOPE; SPECIAL REPORT - Children Feed Their Hunger for Knowledge Which Was Denied for So Long by Brutal Taliban 'I Am So Happy to Be in School ... I Feel Very Lucky That I Can Learn about the world'.(News)
Byline: AMARDEEP BASSEY
After the flight of the Taliban, Afghan capital Kabul is slowly returning to Normal. Sunday Mercury Investigations Editor AMARDEEP BASSEY reports from the city's university and schools.
AMID the devastation and dogma in Kabul there lies an oasis of hope for the city's young generation - a tree-lined sanctuary, where those lucky enough can get away from the turmoil that has blighted their ancient city for decades.
The University of Kabul is a symbol of Afghanistan's belated arrival into the 21st Century.
Under Taliban rule, all male students were required to grow their beards and wear turbans, while women were barred from studying at all.
The only lessons taught were six different sets of religious instruction, centred on the Taliban's own corrupted form of Islam.
But now male and female students tentatively interact while studying subjects the West takes for granted, but which the people of Kabul consider a privilege.
The once austere building seems untouched by years of war, and renovation work can be seen everywhere from the gardens to the new classrooms.
Most of Kabul's youth fled to neighbouring Pakistan to continue their studies - but they are now slowly returning.
English student Sohail Taimim, 24, says: 'I continued studying under Taliban rule for a short while but I was not learning what I wanted. I went to Pakistan and only returned a few weeks ago to recommence my studies.
'Things are getting back to normal and new subjects are being put on the curriculum every day.'
Gradually the university is re-emerging as a bastion of academia with subjects ranging from Mathematics and English to Persian Literature.
But it is not all work and no play. Like countless university campuses around the world, Kabul's grounds now echo with the sound of music blaring from car stereos.
Young men laugh and joke and there is even a little flirtatious banter between the two sexes.
Much of the renovation work at the university is carried out under the auspices of the Civil and Military Cooperation Centre (CIMIC) arm of the ISAF forces.
The social welfare organisation, headed by the Finns, is developing projects across the city from rebuilding schools and orphanages to setting up a Kabul ambulance service manned by locals.
Women still enter the university grounds wearing their ubiquitous blue burqas (veils) but they are soon discarded once inside the compound.
Showing their face is no longer a crime punishable by a beating and the 500 or so female students now stroll freely with their giggling girlfriends.
One student Hawa, 23, reveals that she has only recently returned to her studies. Not long ago, the Taliban decreed that all women must stay at home.
Sitting under a tree with her equally emancipated friends, Hawa says she has recently become engaged to a cousin in Canada.
In her fashionable and chic black dress, complete with striking gold bangles, the Persian Literature student says: 'I was studying here before the Taliban came - but like every other woman, I had to go home when they took over.
'Before they came, the university was full of life and taught lots of subjects. When I was at home I learned how to sew and did some tailoring.
'Now I want to be with my fianc in Canada and learn English so that I can work.'
Overcoming years of subjugation by a relentless Taliban still has its psychological effects on women like Hawa.
'I still wear my burqa when I leave the university grounds,' she says. 'I am not confident enough to be without it in case someone gets angry.'
This cautious attitude is manifested by the number of women still wearing the burqa on the streets of Kabul.
But there are small signs of change which may snowball into full emancipation. …