Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Taleban Take Over Schools in Afghan District

Insurgents have imposed their own regulations and curriculum.
By Benafsha Benish
  • An Afghan boy writes on a chalkboard at a rural school. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
    An Afghan boy writes on a chalkboard at a rural school. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Taleban now control almost all schools across an entire district in Baghdis province, according to local officials.

Acting Qadis governor Mohammad Ibrahim Garaftar told IWPR that only eight of the district’s 88 schools were still under government control.

“Senior officials, the provincial council and all the other authorities all know about the situation,” he said, adding that the insurgents were not only enacting their own parallele system of rules but also using locals as a source of income. “In any area that falls under Taleban control, restrictions are imposed, and they make people pay them alms and fines.”

At all schools controlled by the Taleban, most of the day is taken up by religious subjects.  Students and teachers at boys’ schools are instructed to wear turbans and grow a beard if they are old enough. Girls are only allowed to attend school up to the sixth grade, and need to wear headscarves or burkas at all times.

Pupils at these schools say that they are unhappy with these measures.

Seema, a six-grade student from Langar village in Qadis district, said, “Our first hour of each session begins with teaching of the holy Quran, and then follows with other religious topics.”

She added that girls were not allowed to enter school unless they were wearing headscarves or burkas.

Aman, a student from Qadis’ Dahbrange village, added, “Apart from the Taleban curriculum being implemented at our school, we are also forced to wear turbans and grow facial hair. I don’t like wearing a turban. I am facing a dilemma; if I chose to stay here, I have to put up with all these issues, but if I opt to go to another place, I can’t face living away from my family.”

The director of education in the northwestern ​​province, Zekria Rahimi, said that non-attendance was not an option.

“The Taleban recently announced that in schools under their control in Qadis district, students will have to pay 100 afghanis -  and teachers 500 - as a daily penalty for absenteeism,” he said. “Officials from the ministry of education have been informed about the current issues, and local elders are trying to hold talks with Taleban about the issue.”

Rahimi added that three girls’ schools had been shut down completely by the Taleban.

Qadis is one of the least secure parts of Badghis province, along with Maqor, Bala Morghab, and Abkamari districts.

Acting governor Garaftar said that only one of Qadis’ 12 security zones was under government’s jurisdiction.

He alleged that the Taleban had been able to take control of most of the area with no trouble or bloodshed due to deals they had made with local strongmen.

Badghis officials also warn that the problem is not just confined to schools in Qadis. Three or four boys’ schools had been closed down in Abkamari and Moqar districts, with five more under Taleban control in other districts. 

There are around 480 schools across Badghis province. Quite apart from threats from the Taleban, many suffer from a longstanding lack of resources.

The Afghan government has promised to prioritise school-building and President Ashraf Ghani, during a recentceremony to inaugurate the new school year, called on all government departments to cooperate with the ministry of education on this issue.

Rahimi said, “President Ghani has called this a year of supporting education and a total of 6,000 school buildings are supposed to be constructed across the country, out of which 90 will be built in Badghis province during 2018 and 2019.”

While his department had recently managed to recruit more teachers, he said that the lack of actual school building and textbooks remained serious challenges.

Cultural analyst Junaidulla Ashkani said that although he did not believe that the Taleban’s methods of teaching were correct, attending their schools was preferable to children remaining illiterate.

Askhani said that the education department had failed to build working relationships with local leaders, especially in more remote areas. This factor, combined with a lack of security, had allowed the insurgents to fill the vacuum.

“Either clearing the Taleban from the area, or opting to maintain communication between people and the Taleban could be the solution to reopening the schools and bringing them back under government control,” he said.

Local officials said that they had developed a strategy to unseat the insurgents that just needed time to implement.

Faiz Mohammad Merzazada, deputy provincial governor, said, “We have plans, and are continuously keeping central government informed about the situation. We need to follow their directives; when a plan is made, it takes some time until the central government reviews and analyses the situation, but this problem will be solved.”

A recent UNICEF report found that ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has prevented 3.7 million children from attending school. Around 60 per cent of those denied access to education were girls.