The education plan was announced on Sunday by Taliban chief spokesman Abdul Hai Muthmahien, who phoned the Associated Press to announce that the movement planned to spend $1 million to build schools in six provinces in which it had gained a foothold. "Taliban are not against education," he said. "The Taliban want Shariah [Islamic law] education." He also said that schools for girls would follow later, a promise that rings hollow considering that during the six years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, not a single girl was allowed to attend school.
Since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001, some 5.4 million Afghan children have been enrolled in schools, including 1.6 million girls. But a devastating campaign of intimidation through school burnings and the killing of teachers has forced the closure of many schools in the southern provinces where the insurgency is strongest. "How can the Taliban say they want to build schools when they have already burnt 180, closed 396 and prevented the youth of the country from going to school?" says Education Minister Hanif Atmar. "What they are really talking about building is madrassahs [religious schools] and terrorist training grounds. They will take young boys and train them in killing and suicide attacks on our country."
The Taliban says its schools will offer an Islamically correct education, and will provide students with Taliban-era textbooks. Some of those textbooks, which can still be found in curio shops and bookstores in Kabul, teach children to count with Kalashnikovs, and to subtract by killing off members of rival groups.
The Taliban has long combined its armed actions with a campaign of intimidation aimed at preventing government institutions, such as schools, from functioning. But Sunday's announcement marks the first time since 2001 that the Taliban has promised its own social services to the population, in what appears to be a direct response to the Coalition and government reconstruction projects. "They really are masters of propaganda," says Joanna Nathan, Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group. "In reality they are offering the people nothing. They are still releasing hideous DVDs of beheadings in order to instill fear in the population. This school announcement is just a PR campaign."
Even though more than 7 million afghan children have yet to be enrolled in school, Education Minister Atmar is adamant that the government will not tolerate Taliban schools. "Any place of education controlled by the Taliban will be considered a terrorist training ground," he says. "The Afghan government has full legitimacy to take military activity on these places."