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Afghanistan: Action Pledged On Taleban School Takeover

Officials vow to address concerns over insurgent influence on education.
By IWPR Afghanistan

An IWPR report that revealed how the Taleban were attempting to impose their own curriculum in schools in Logar province has made headline news across Afghanistan.

(See Taleban Impose Changes on Afghan Curriculum).

Local officials said that, having been alerted to the issue by IWPR, they would now act to prevent the insurgents from forcing their own version of religious study onto students.

In a number of areas of the eastern province, IWPR found that the Taleban had banned lessons on cultural subjects, such as music, and those being taught around issues of terrorism and extremism. They had also inserted their own programme of religious study into schools, often taught by their own members.

Saleem Saleh, the spokesman of Logar’s governor, said that the IWPR story had already made a difference, helping focus local efforts on vital educational work.

“After the publication of your report concerning the teaching of the Taleban’s curriculum in school, Logar’s local government has become more committed to solve the problems which exist in the education department,” said. “We are trying to rescue the areas mentioned in your report from the influence of the Taleban.”

Mohammad Zahid Sultani, a reporter for the Bakhtar news agency, said that the IWPR story had been picked up by much of the local and national media and was an illustration of how reporters could act to hold the government to account on such serious social issues.

“If the media is utilised properly to publish factual reports then it makes the government face its problems,” he said. “With the release of such reports, fundamental reforms can be implemented and the gap between the government and people reduced”.

Mohammad Nasim Samadai, a reporter with Zinat Radio, also said that the IWPR story would impel the education department to improve its performance.

“The media has a major role in social reforms and in solving the issues people face,” he continued. “I can say that if such reports are published, it will be unlikely that problems will persist in our community.”

Officials agreed that the story had raised important issues which they would now follow up on.

“This report had a significant impact,” said Mohammad Akbar Stanikzai, Logar’s director of education. “We have not heard anything like that in the districts and centre, but we will still investigate.”

However, he rejected claims by the Taleban in the original story that they sent their own religious scholars to district schools in order to teach students.

Stanikzai said that the curriculum was “taught equally in the districts including the centre, Pul-e-Alam, and we will not allow anyone to alter or interfere with it”.

Kabir Haqmal, the director general of communications at the ministry of education, said that they had also been unaware of the problem before reading the IWPR article.

“The curriculum of the ministry of education is an Islamic, Afghan and standards-based curriculum,” he said. “There is nothing in this curriculum that violates Afghan and Islamic principles. The position and policy of the ministry of education is to promote only the Afghan education curriculum and we will not allow others to disseminate another curriculum.”

In some areas, local elders had negotiated compromise agreements with Taleban leaders over the amount of influence they were allowed to have over the curriculum. But security officials said that a new offensive was planned when the weather improved that would further reduce insurgent influence in Logar.

Logar police chief Esmatullah Alizai said, “Security in Logar province has improved compared to the past and at the beginning of spring we plan to increase our operations against the Taleban - who prevent the implementation of the ministry of education’s training programmes as well as government development projects -  and clear the remaining areas of Taleban presence so that they won’t be able to teach their own curriculum in schools.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.