Book fair held in Kabul amid concerns over decline in reading culture

KABUL, Afghanistan — A book exhibition was held in Kabul on Wednesday, as cultural figures warned of a diminishing culture of reading among the youth in a country gripped by crises.

Cultural activists expressed concerns about the fading interest in Afghanistan’s heritage of reading and liberalism. Female students, who have been deprived of education due to Taliban restrictions, displayed their artworks at the exhibition.

On the sidelines of the event, some cultural figures and university professors voiced alarm that the culture of reading and the country’s cultural values are under threat. They urged the Taliban to reconsider their stance on cultural issues, librarianship, reading, and cultural heritage.

“No society can transition from a fragile and undesirable situation to a stable one without paying attention to cultural differences and the multiple identities that exist within the society, and without relying on cultural values and heritage,” said Mohammad Yahya Waqaar, a university professor.

Naqibullah Qane, a Taliban official from the Ministry of Information and Culture, claimed that efforts to strengthen cultural heritage are underway.

This comes as girls and women have been deprived of access to educational institutions over the past three years of Taliban rule. The Taliban has imposed severe restrictions on girls and women, barring them from attending school beyond grade six and closing universities to them.

Some girls, deprived of higher education, have turned to professional and artistic pursuits. Nasreen, one such student, turned to painting and showcased her work at the exhibition. Raihana, another female student, shared a similar story and criticized the Taliban for its restrictive measures.

“Half of the society is deprived of education, learning, and participation in cultural programs. I came here today; it was very touching for me because the presence of women and girls was very limited,” she said.

Since the fall of power to the Taliban in August 2021, women and girls have faced strict restrictions on their freedoms. Despite ongoing protests both domestically and internationally, the Taliban has not eased these restrictions, continuing to deprive women and girls of education, work, and free movement.