Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Afghanistan seems to be following in the footsteps of Iraq as the Taliban regains its foothold in the south. In the last few months, Taliban militants have targeted international forces, humanitarian organizations, schools and government forces, especially the nascent Afghan army and police.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, militants in Afghanistan have carried out 204 attacks on schools in the south, since January 2005. However, diplomats in Pakistan confirmed that the real figure was much higher, given the difficulty of gathering information in Afghanistan. The increasing violence has had a detrimental effect on the education system, revived by the government of President Hamid Karzai, following the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, which had banned girls from attending school.
By 2005, the number of male and female children enrolled in schools across Afghanistan had reached 5.2 million, according to the country’s ministry of education. Attacks by militants have led to the closure of several educational institutions, especially in the south, a Taliban stronghold. The ministry predicted fewer children will enroll in the upcoming school year, as a result of the rise in violence.
More attacks have taken place in the first of half of 2006 compared to the whole of last year. So far, according to ministry of education figures, Taliban fighters have destroyed 120 schools and forced 200 others to shut, after threatening teachers and students. In June, an attack on a primary school in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, killed six students and injured 14. More than 40 students have been killed so far, according to the ministry of education.
The campaign against schools is aimed at undermining the Kabul government’s authority. Based on their extremist interpretation of Islam, Taliban militants attack schools because they believe that female education is contrary to the teachings of Islam. This is why female education was banned during the five years in power,” said Habibullah Rafie, an Afghan analyst.
Reports from Afghanistan indicate that Taliban militants are not the only ones attacking schools, as groups loyal to tribal warlords and drug dealers launch attacks in order to increase their authority and independence from Kabul. In an attack on a school near Kandahar, a statement in the name of “the Muslim army” was left behind warning people against working for the Afghan or US governments and demanding they quit their jobs to ensure their own safety. The statement said schools taught western ideas and preached Christianity. For its part, the Afghan government said the Muslim army was just another name for the Taliban.
In another statement distributed across the southern Afghan city, militants warned people from cooperating with foreigners and vowed to attack teachers and students if they attend school. The statement was distributed to houses, schools and local mosques in Kandahar.
The security crisis in southern Afghanistan further aggravates the woes of the Afghan educational system at a time when the government is unable to guarantee the safety of its teachers. The United Nations and human rights organizations have urged Kabul and the international community to rebuild schools destroyed by the Taliban.
Schools are not the only targets, however, as Afghan police and soldiers have also been attacked. Last week, government officials said that suspected Taliban militants killed a 70-year-old woman and her 13-year-old grandson in the restive southern province of Helmand, hanging their bodies from a tree, for allegedly spying on behalf of the government.