Afghan School With an All-Female Orchestra Fears the Taliban’s Return

Afghan School With an All Female Orchestra Fears the Talibans Return
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For more than a decade, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music has stood as a symbol of the country’s changing identity. It trained hundreds of young artists in artistic traditions that were once forbidden by the Taliban, and formed an all-female orchestra that performed widely in Afghanistan and abroad.

But in recent days, as the Taliban have again consolidated control over Afghanistan, the school’s future has been thrown into doubt.

Several students and teachers said in interviews that they feared that the Taliban, who have a history of attacking the school’s leaders, would seek to punish people affiliated with the school as well as their families. Several female students said they had been staying inside their homes since Kabul, the capital, was seized on Sunday.

Some said they worried that the school will be shut down, that their dreams to become professional musicians could disintegrate and that they will not be allowed to play again — even as a hobby.

“It’s a nightmare,” Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the head of the school, said in a telephone interview from Melbourne, Australia, where he arrived last month for medical treatment.

The Taliban banned most forms of music when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. This time, they have promised a more tolerant approach, vowing not to carry out reprisals against their former enemies and saying that women will be allowed to work and study “within the bounds of Islamic law.”

But their history of violence toward artists and their general intolerance for music without religious meaning has sowed doubts among many performers.

“My concern is that the people of Afghanistan will be deprived of their music,” Mr. Sarmast said. “There will be an attempt to silence the nation.”

The school’s habit of challenging has tradition made it a target. In 2014, Mr. Sarmast was injured by a Taliban suicide bomber who infiltrated a school play. The Taliban tried to attack the school again in the years that followed, but their attempts were thwarted, Mr. Sarmast said.

Now, female students say they are concerned about a return to a repressive past, when the Taliban eliminated schooling for girls and barred women from leaving home without male guardians.

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