The Battle for Schools: The Taleban and State Education
This new AAN report by authors Antonio Giustozzi and Claudio Franco looks at the Taleban’s changing attitude towards state education. In the last two years, the Taleban have increasingly allowed schools to operate in areas under their control or influence, but this has come at a price – a more conservative curriculum and more mullahs employed as teachers in state schools.
The report traces the different contestations around state education with a special focus on the past decade. In 2002, opening and building schools and getting Afghan boys and girls educated was a priority for the new government and its international backers. For the Taleban, one of the main tactics of their campaign against the government was to attack schools. The violence peaked in 2006, with dozens of students and teachers killed and hundreds of schools burned or forcibly shut down. However, there was a backlash. Rural communities showed little support for violence and the Taleban faced a hostile response from villagers who wanted their children to be allowed to go to school.
Having publicly committed themselves to the anti-school campaign of violence, the Taleban could only backtrack slowly. ‘There were early contacts between the Ministry of Education and the Taleban’, said Giustozzi and Franco, ‘but these were cut off, allegedly because of American hostility – however, neither the ministry nor the Taleban tried to prevent local deals to re-open schools’ The Taleban allowed schools to re-open if certain demands were met – and these have remained constant since 2007: adopt the Taleban curriculum, based on the 1980s mujahedin curriculum and textbooks, and hire teachers of religious subjects linked to the Taleban, usually in addition to Ministry of Education teachers. In 2010, the Ministry of Education decided to re-start negotiations with the Taleban and the pace of local negotiations accelerated considerably. This also coincided with the Taleban’s removing an order to attack schools and teachers from their code of conduct when it was revised in 2009.
Perceptions of such deal making on state schools vary among the population and among the Taleban. In the first half of 2011, when this research was conducted, villagers mostly saw the decrease of attacks on schools as positive. Among Taleban, several interviewees appeared to be unenthusiastic about the change of strategy, but were encouraged by the alleged Ministry of Education promise of further concessions, with the aim – on the Taleban side – of bringing the national curriculum much closer to the Taleban’s vision. Inevitably, this has been a contentious issue.
“At the time of writing,” said Giustozzi and Franco, “the Ministry of Education leadership seemed keen to turn deal-making on schools into a confidence-building measure for future political negotiations. The Taleban, on the other hand, appear more motivated by the need to improve relations with rural communities, who are themselves increasingly wary of a conflict which never seems to end.”
“Since 1978,” said Giustozzi and Franco, “education has been a political touchstone and a battlefield. The post-2001 attacks on schools are part of that pattern. Yet in the last two years, we have seen rural communities motivated by a pragmatic desire for schooling for their children force the Taleban to change their strategy. The Taleban, unable to forcibly end state schooling, have, however, managed to partially co-opt it. The main losers in this new modus vivandi are Afghan girls.”
The full report can be downloaded here
Thematic Report 08/2011.
13 December 2011.
Photo: Roy Dogon, 2003