Following a recent upsurge in Taliban attacks on education targets in Afghanistan, which echoes a similar campaign waged by the Taliban two years ago, The Independent reports that officials are ‘trying to harness parent power in an attempt to stop the Taliban burning schools and murdering teachers’.
Under the protection programme, sometimes called School Councils or School Shuras, villagers agree to provide a small quota of night watchmen to take turns on guard. “Parent power is exactly what it is,” an education official said. “We bring parents, teachers and some key people in the community together to agree to protect the schools.”
In Logar province last month, a primary school was saved by a gang of furious fathers who chased would-be arsonists into the night. The head of the local PTA, Basir, said armed men approached a co-ed primary school for more than 600 students after midnight. “They had guns and petrol to burn the school. But the guards saw them and started shouting,” he said. “Everyone came out of their houses and when the terrorists realised, they ran away.”
According to The Independent report, at least 235 teachers, students and education workers were killed and 222 wounded in the period from February 2006 to February 2008, while in the last three weeks, ‘at least 10 schools have been torched and a guard had his ears cut off’.
The provinces in which the attacks have occurred since the new term started on 23 March are listed as Kunduz (3), Kandahar (2), Helmand (1), Paktia (1), Khost (1), Wardak (1), Logar (1), and Farah (1).
Attacks on Education Targets in Past 3 Weeks [IRG]
In January, the PakTribune reported a speech by President Karzai in which he claimed such attacks were keeping 300,000 children out of school – up from 200,000 the previous year. Nevertheless, more than 5.8 million children, including 2 million girls, now regularly attend classes.
With the government incapable of providing individual protection to the thousands of schools across the country, the School Shura initiative – which already provides protection for 9,600 schools – provides a practical solution. Furthermore, exploiting the desire by ordinary Afghans to enable their children to get an education seems an effective way of generating a cleavage between the insurgents and local populations, with the School Shuras possibly providing the foundation for the future implementation of more broadly scoped village defence committees.