WORLD

THE ISSUE IN...

February 19 2007
WORLD

THE ISSUE IN...

February 19 2007

Education in terror

The Taliban says it now wants to build schools— after torching so many

BY ADNAN R. KHAN • The Taliban, apparently, have a sense of humour. Or so it would seem based on the ousted hardline militia’s latest PR foray—an announcement in late January that it has earmarked US$1 million for building schools in the remote south of Afghanistan, including Kandahar province. It was a bizarre statement, coming as it did from an organization that has no real means to follow through on such a promise, and one that has warmed its hands over the fires of the hundreds of schools its own fighters have torched. What the announcement actually reveals is a level of desperation among the Taliban leadership, and a tacit acknowledgement that NATO’s intensive public relations campaign in Kandahar province and neighbouring Helmand during these relatively calm winter months is making some headway.

Recent strategic shifts in the way development work is carried out appear to be eroding the once impenetrable veneer of local mistrust that has plagued crucial reconstruction efforts. NATO has, for example, begun to fund religious schools, donating computer equipment and funding building at sites throughout Afghanistan. “In order to get good governance, we need to take into consideration the religion too,” said Lt.-Col. Arne Opperud, commander of a Norwegianled Provincial Reconstruction Team. In addition to a modern curriculum, these schools will teach a less fundamentalist form of Islam.

The Taliban have also offered to somewhat modernize education, and even to, possibly, eventually allow girls to attend schools. Given their past statements, though, this appears to be a hollow promise. Last fall, the Taliban released a 30-point memorandum outlining, among other things, what constitutes a “proper” Islamic education. Most notably, that memorandum limits teaching tools to “Textbooks from the period of the Jihad or from the Taliban regime”—in other words, an education system locked in a violent past where illustrations of AK-47 assault rifles are used to teach children arithmetic, and children are otherwise prostrated over Korans. However, look for the Taliban to honour another recent promise: of a vicious springtime offensive that will make 2007 “the bloodiest year for foreign troops.” M