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The Killid Group
Battle for schoolsWritten by AAN
Sunday, 18 December 2011 09:57
The level of violence against schools in the country has dropped very substantially since July 2010. A new report by the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN)*looks at why.
Researchers Antonio Giustozzi and Claudio Franco say Taleban commanders in the field are openly talking about an agreement between their leadership and the Ministry of Education (MoE) to reopen all schools in exchange for the MoE's generalised adoption of a new curriculum. Is the Taleban taking over state education and reshaping it in its image?
The Taleban have had to rethink their strategy of aggression towards state education after a backlash from rural communities who wanted to be given the opportunity to attend school. Villagers were reacting to the wave of attacks against schools that reached a peak in 2006 when dozens of students and teachers were killed and hundreds of schools affected.
The Taleban and MoE began talking in 2007, but stopped allegedly because of US hostility to them. However neither side tried to prevent local deals being struck for the reopening of schools. A trickle of local deals continued until 2010 when the pace of negotiations accelerated considerably, perhaps because the Taleban removed the authorisation to attack schools from their code of conduct in 2009. Between late 2010 and early 2011, the MoE apparently took the decision to restart talks at the top level to allow more radical change. The Taleban decided to suspend attacks on schools altogether, which has not led to a complete cessation of attacks only because of command and control problems within the Taleban. Deal making at the local level has continued with girls' schools also beginning to reopen in some provinces.
The MoE leadership seems keen to turn deal-making on schools into a confidence-building measure for future political negotiations. The Taleban seems motivated by the need to bridge the gap with the rural communities increasingly wary of a conflict which never seems to end.
Winning rural support
The Taleban's strategy for education seems aimed at trying to provide as much as possible a range of services to the population: Quranic schools, private schools (sometimes subsidised by the Taleban), madrassas and Taleban-controlled state schools, which are probably the only source of secular education. The Taleban have invested human resources in supervising state schools in the areas where they are most influential. The Taleban supervisors not only ensure that the deals with the MoE are respected, but also the attendance of teachers and students.
The first signs the Taleban were reconsidering came from Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, Helmand, Nimroz and Farah provinces inearly 2007. They announced Islamic education would be provided for boys and later even for girls. A Taleban spokesman was quoted saying, "The aims are to reopen schools so children who are deprived can benefit and secondly, to counter the propaganda of the West and its puppets against Islam, jihad and the Taleban."
The reopening of the schools in Ghazni (spring 2010) was based, according to newspaper reports (and denied by the government) on a settlement in which the government paid for the costs, the curriculum proposed by the Taleban was adopted, textbooks were changed and teachers recommended by the Taleban hired. The curriculum incorporated new religious subjects as in the Taleban time. There were complaints that the quality of non-religious teaching, particularly scientific subjects was poor.
Big brother is watching
The report points to Taleban's school monitoring as perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Taleban's educational strategy as it developed from 2007. Most interviewees believed or knew that the Taleban were keeping an eye on state schools, but the system implemented seemed to vary from place to place.
In Ghazni, Paktika and Kunduz, the schools were being supervised in a rather professional way, with a dedicated commission established for the task.
What does it tell us about the Taleban's aim, ask the researchers? Perhaps the monitoring represents a compromise between those inclined towards a hard line and those in favour of a softer approach - the relatively greater tolerance might have been harder to sell to the radicals without guarantees of a strict respect of the rules.
Seen within the context of the wider Taleban effort to form a shadow government inside Afghanistan, it might be an attempt to address their weakness in providing services to the population, 'hijacking' state education and reshaping it in its image.
So far the Taleban have not made a formal announcement on girls' education; it was apparently being tested out in a number of provinces. The Taleban's caution on this point shows that the issue remains divisive within their ranks.
Overall the benefits for the Afghan state are less obvious than for the Taleban, the researchers say. Optimism about the possibility of political talks has faded considerably since the beginning of the year. It is a win-win situation for the Taleban.
*AAN and Killid are partners