Herat bookstores face collapse as educated Afghans flee country

By Omar

The departure of thousands of educated Afghans and a decline in reading among Afghans who remain have stalled sales in many bookstores. As a result, most bookstore owners have decided to cease operations, leaving youth vulnerable to extremism, analysts warn. [Omar/Salaam Times]

HERAT -- When the Afghan government collapsed seven months ago, thousands of educated Afghan citizens were forced to flee and seek refuge in other countries.

Their departure, paired with the dire economic situation in the country and a decline in reading among Afghans who remain, have stalled sales in many bookstores.

The Farooqi bookstore is one of the many in Herat city whose owners recently decided to close shop.

Store owner Mohammad Shafi Farooqi said he has been unable to earn enough to pay rent for the past several months and cannot continue his business any longer because of financial constraints.

A bookseller waits for customers at his store March 10 in Herat city. [Omar/Salaam Times]

A bookseller waits for customers at his store March 10 in Herat city. [Omar/Salaam Times]

He had been in business for 30 years.

Most of his customers were university lecturers and students -- the majority of whom left Afghanistan in recent months, he said.

Farooqi said he invested 1.5 million AFN ($17,100) in his bookstore but cannot even earn 500 AFN ($5.70) a day now.

"There has been a general perception among youth that reading is useless and does not add any value under the current situation," he said. "Unfortunately, power fell in the hands of those who do not value the critical importance of education in our society."

"With the current uncertainty hanging over their heads, many young Afghans have become very pessimistic about the future, and their motivation to read books has diminished," he said.

Ghulam Dastgir Haqmal, the owner of Abdali bookstore in Herat city, said his business was running reasonably well before the collapse of the previous government.

"Schools and universities were open at the time. We used to have many customers and could sell many books in a given day, but now, people cannot afford books," he said.

Haqmal said he cannot make enough to cover his store's expenses and that if the situation does not improve, he will have to close his business.

'No hope'

Rising unemployment, economic challenges and the closure of schools and universities have left many young Afghans deeply pessimistic.

When educated youth are determined to explore ways to leave the country, there is no hope for a bright future, said Mohammad Rafiq Niromand, a third-year student at Herat University's faculty of law and political science.

Thousands of young Afghans who were able graduate from universities are now grappling with unemployment and out of desperation are fleeing abroad in search of a job, he said.

"I lost motivation to continue my education," Niromand said. "Our university was closed for a year, and now that it has opened, I see that 70% of my classmates have left or dropped out."

"Employment opportunities are not available for educated youth in the country, and when it comes to finding work in other countries, there is no difference between an educated Afghan and an illiterate Afghan because everyone has to work for a living," he said.

Zainab Ahmadi, a 12th-grade student in Herat city, said the closure of schools for the past several months has discouraged her from reading books.

"Most educated women in Afghanistan are confined to their homes," she said. "In the current situation, no matter how hard I try to study, I will eventually be forced to stay at home because I will not be allowed to work outside."

Ahmadi said she often thinks women's education in Afghanistan is futile now.

"I was enthusiastically studying last year and graduated at the top of my class. I also got a high score on the university entrance examination, but I have not so much as opened my books for the past several months," she said.

Herat resident Feroz Ahmad Ghafoori said he used to read a new book every week but can no longer afford books.

"I have to think about finding a piece of bread for my family instead of reading or buying books," he said.

"I worked for the municipality and was able put some money aside for purchasing books. But now I am unemployed and do not have enough savings to buy books," he said.

Under such circumstances, reading a book is not a priority for anyone, Ghafoori said.

"Reading requires a peaceful mind, but my mind is already overwhelmed with finding ways to feed my family," he said.

Vulnerable to extremism

The departure of educated citizens and the lack of interest in reading among young Afghans could open the door for extremism in Afghan society, educators and analysts warn.

The only way to save Afghanistan from extremism is to raise public awareness and promote education, said Abdul Qader Kamel, a Herat political analyst.

"The Afghan youth who have stayed in the country must keep up the momentum and continue to pursue education and build their capabilities," he said. "Only educated youth can rescue our country from the ongoing crisis."

Terrorist groups have preyed on illiterate youth and used them to serve their purposes over the past two decades, Kamel said.

"The literacy rate has decreased in Afghanistan, and if more young people become discouraged from education, the future will indeed be disastrous," he said.

The closure of each bookstore signals a rollback in progress, said Sayed Akram Nizami, a teacher in Herat city.

"It is obvious that all developed countries around the globe have made progress and achieved prosperity thanks to books and their educated youth," he said. "If the Afghan youth do not study, Afghanistan will never prosper."

"Extremism and illiteracy are the two driving factors of misery and devastation in Afghanistan," Nizami said. "If the literacy rate rises in the country, no one can take advantage of them [Afghans] or rule over them."

Only a revolution in which everyone comes together and stands united can save Afghanistan from its crisis, he said.

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Libraries are on the verge of collapse, not only in Herat but, unfortunately, in all large and small libraries across Afghanistan. No one likes to read a book. Doesn't give time to study. People's hearts are broken. Leaders and juniors of the new government only focus on how to grow people's beards, the hair has gone wild and forestry, and how to make the women wear scarves. They have deprived them of getting an education and a hundred and a thousand other excuses. A few days ago, I went to the Ministry of Higher Education. Instead of showing videos/photos of essential and achievable programs of the ministry on the screen in the ministry hall, videos of military exercises of the Taliban militants were shown on it. I looked at it and passed through it. All I can say is that there is a place for everything, and everything must be done in its place. I had a photo of the Minister of Higher Education, who had a private meeting with the Pakistani Ambassador in Kabul. That also harmed my mind. Then I went to the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Department for my work. I saw that the new director is a bachelor of education. I looked at the frame on the wall. The message of the former was written, which was ended by the term professor. I saw many other bad-quality works that were entitled to knowledgeable and professional people. Instead, people with long hair were sitting. They may have come from a mountain or a village recently and may have lately completed grade 12 or religious s