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Asia

Afghan students protest against renaming of university

Students in the Afghan capital Kabul have replaced a sign bearing the new name of their institute with the old one and are now waiting on the government's reaction.

They did it. In the middle of the night, a group of students managed to remove a sign from above the entrance to their institute that read "Martyr for Peace, Professor Burhannudin Rabbani University," and replace it with the old one - "Kabul Education University."

On 20 September, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai had ordered that their establishment be named after Burhannudin Rabbani, one year exactly after the controversial figure was assassinated.

"President Karzai made this decision without consulting anyone so it was a surprise to both staff and students in the university," Kate Clark from the Afghan Analysts Network told DW. "He clearly wanted to honor Professor Rabbani and to keep his political camp and his followers happy but he couldn't have chosen a worst place."

Controversial figure

An ethnic Tajik, Rabbani, who led the mujahideen against the Soviets, was also a leading warlord during the civil war, the leader of the Northern Alliance under the Taliban regime, and then temporarily acting president after the Taliban were toppled. Some consider him a hero and martyr who died while trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Others allege he committed massive human rights abuses during the civil war.

Burhanuddin Rabbani

Burhanuddin Rabbani remains a controversial figure a year after his assassination

Mohammadyar Yar, one of the protest leaders, told DW that they did not want their institute to get caught up in politics.

"A few weeks ago, President Karzai said that university wasn't a place for politics," he said. "But he himself has now enflamed ethnic and political tensions at the university by making this decision."

Yar and hundreds of other students started protesting immediately after Karzai made his announcement. The protests effectively brought the establishment to a close.

Earlier this month, about two dozen students were arrested after clashes broke out with supporters of Rabbani, however they were later released.

Avoiding 'ethnic poison'

Yar also pointed out that the protesters were not interested in ethnicity: "Not only Pashtuns are protesting but Tajiks and Hazaras too."

"What has been interesting is that the students have tried to avoid all this ethnic poison," confirmed Kate Clark. "And to try and say: 'Look, this is an education facility it's an academic institution. We respect Professor Rabbani, we respect his memory but we want to be neutral.' They actually tried to handle this in a very politically mature manner."

Students protesting

The protests have effectively shut down the university

Meanwhile, a protester named Zabiullah said he just wanted to "study in peace," saying that now the name had been changed the government had to provide security.

"We just want this sign to be taken off and for the university to get its old name back," a co-student called Naqibullah told DW.

The students are now waiting to see how the government will react to their decision to change the name back.

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