April 16, 2018
The recent torching of two schools may signal that extremist militants want to kill any hopes of reviving a dead intra-Afghan reconciliation process. While “mainstream” elements of the Taliban have allegedly refrained from targeting schools it is doubtful one will hear public condemnations of the attacks emanating from their leadership anytime soon. Moreover, the attacks raise doubts that anti-government forces are sincerely interested in joining a society that wants to boost female empowerment.
The New York Times on April 15, citing government officials, reported that 26 Afghan security officers were killed and two schools set ablaze. One of the targets was an all-girls high school in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s home district, 35 miles outside of Kabul, which was actually attacked on April 11 and, according to the report, it is unclear why the incident was not previously disclosed.
The Times also pushed this interesting narrative that the Taliban mainstream has refrained from attacking schools, leaving us to wonder if the culprits were the Islamic State or rogue elements of the insurgency.
The attacks come amid hopes that some Taliban are ready to engage in negotiations. High Peace Council (HPC) secretariat Akram Khpulwak on April 14 told lower house parliamentarians that he believes internal pressure and foreign support will push the Taliban to join intra-Afghan talks.
“As per our information, discussions are ongoing among them [Taliban] and probably there might be some problems, but we are hopeful,” Khpulwak said as quoted by Tolo News.
Although the world may shame the anti-government militants for burning down schools there should be no illusions here. Ghani himself has aligned with warlords and human rights abusers who certainly do not place a high priority on female education.
The state of female education is certainly better than it was under the Taliban yet, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report last October, some two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school while 41 percent of all schools in Afghanistan do not have buildings.
Western powers have continually payed lip-service to women’s rights with some even citing the cause as a chief reason to remain in Afghanistan. Of course, if this is truly a major driver behind the U.S.-led occupation, it only underscores the abject failure of America’s purported modernizing endeavor.
U.S. human rights groups may be disgusted by the extremists’ tactics but let us not forget where they learned this from. Reactionary elements among the U.S.-backed mujahideen “freedom fighters” since the early stages of the jihad against the Soviets blew up girls schools as a regular practice while Washington and its allies looked the other way.
In fact, female education was at an all-time high under the Afghan Marxists before “the Muj” – America’s darlings – and its descendants the Taliban implemented a policy of “gender apartheid.” Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, the first two Western journalists the communists allowed to operate in Afghanistan, bore witness to this phenomenon.
“In reality, a major cause for the growth of the resistance to the communists in the more tradition-bound countryside was the forced education of women and girls and the forced removal of the veil,” Gould and Fitzgerald explained in a TruthDig piece published in November. “Nor is it understood in the West that many Afghan rulers in the past attempted these reforms with some level of success.”
The journalists also argued that a vivid illustration of what life was like can be found in a piece by The Guardian’s Jonathon Steele who wonders if the “U.S. rulers of Afghanistan” had finally adopted the agenda of their Soviet predecessors.
“In 1981, Kabul’s two campuses thronged with women students, as well as men,” Steele wrote in 2003. “Most went around without even a headscarf. Hundreds went off to Soviet universities to study engineering, agronomy and medicine.”
It also bears mentioning that a direct line can be drawn from the reforms under the Afghan Marxists back to those mandated by King Amanullah after 1919. So, just consider, that nearly 100 years ago Afghan women had more rights than they do today.
This is only to underscore that the Taliban’s reluctance to torch girls’ schools recently does not erase their past barbaric policies towards women. After all, the HRW report also reminds us that “during their five-year rule, the Taliban prohibited almost all education for girls and women.”
And there is little evidence to suggest this mindset has changed. In areas under Taliban control Afghans continue to fear sending their children to school for fear of reprisal.
“The Taliban is near our house,” one 12-year old girl told HRW in 2016. “If we go to school they will kill us.”
Hence, although the recent spate of attacks on schools may not be attributable to Taliban main-streamers, it is hard to fathom they will be willing participants in re-instituting Afghanistan’s golden era of tolerance and progressivism.