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Student by day, Talib at night

Qarib Rahman Shahab
Wardak classrooms have been overrun by Taliban students, teachers and headmasters, forcing some established schools to relocate and others to adapt to an austere curriculum and stockpiles of guns in the playground.
1.10.2014  |  Wardak
Students at a secondary school in Said Abad district in Wardak Province. (Photos: Qarib Rahman Shahab)
Students at a secondary school in Said Abad district in Wardak Province. (Photos: Qarib Rahman Shahab)

Pens, books and ordinary schoolchildren sit side-by-side in class with armed Taliban insurgents. It is an ordinary sight in many secondary schools in volatile Wardak Province, the corridor to Kabul, where large numbers of students live a double life outside of classrooms as anti-government militants. Most schools in districts near the Kabul-Kandahar Highway, nicknamed the Highway of Horrors, have two headmasters, one government appointed and another chosen and approved by local Taliban commanders.

Despite widespread concerns, a teacher at the Shaida Apran high school in Chak district says he doesn't delve into what extra-curricular activities his students engage in. “It’s not important for me with whom my students are affiliated or what they do outside of the school. Regardless of what they do and who they do it with, once they enter the school they are only students,” says Shafiullah Lomar.

Guns on desks

Nearly half of Wardak's 160,000 schoolchildren go to school in areas where there is limited, or even no government control. The Taliban's footprint on communities is stronger than in other areas of Afghanistan and guns are as common a sight in playgrounds as satchels. One students says the laissez-faire attitude towards guns in schools reflects teachers' sympathies.

“A larger number of teachers, directly or indirectly, are supporting the Taliban movement. Every time we come to school with our arms they let us in,” says Muslim, a 12th grade student and young Taliban fighter at Arabano high school in Chak district.

Forced into refuge: Shahadat religious school had to relocate to a tent in a secure area after Taliban militants objected to teachers in the school adhering to the national curriculum.

Teachers at Hazrat Omer Farooq school on the other hand say not only some teachers, but students as young as 12 are affiliated with the Taliban, literally reshaping the local education landscape. Shahadat religious school in Chak, near a large dam, was forced to relocate this year from a purpose-built facility to classes in makeshift tents in Maidan Shar, a safer district, following threats from insurgents. Local Taliban had objected to Shahadat's course of study, which included national curriculum subjects such as English, maths, social sciences and philosophy. According to one student, insurgents not only forced teachers to stop teaching music classes but had also begun to camp out in the school premises at night.

With the province practically under the control of local Taliban groups, the government has little choice but to co-administer many secondary schools. Khalid Bin Walid high school is an example of a hybrid management structure whereby a government and a Taliban appointed headmaster run the school together. The school's government appointed principle, Bakht Noor Hatif, says his school is located in one of the province's most insecure areas. Hatif says the quality of education in his school is “poor” but that the influence of the Taliban helps encourage former and current combatants to enroll in education.

From classroom to battlefield

Fazalrahman Tariq, director of the Wardak education authorities.

Government officials acknowledge the hybrid system in schools but play down the influence of the Taliban. “There are principals and teachers assigned by the Taliban but they have no role in decision making on school affairs. Their roles are mostly symbolic,” says Fazulraham Tariq, director of the provincial department of education in Wardak Province.

Reports from schools suggest the opposite. One headmaster in Wardak says that if he or his teachers were to refuse the demands of their Taliban 'colleagues', their lives and those of their families would be in danger. The life expectancy for many students is low: nearly 80 students at Khalil Bin Walid high school have been killed in the last two years fighting for local insurgent groups in battles against government and ISAF forces, says one source at the school.

Ataullah Khogaini, spokesman for the Wardak governor, says they have heard such rumors but neither the central government nor they have received any official evidence to prove that the students in the province are involved in anti-government insurgency.

Yet the evidence is clear across vast areas of the strategically important province near the capital Kabul. Schools in the Tangi Valley of Said Abad district, five kilometres from the Kabul - Kandahar highway, one of the marquee projects of local PRT efforts, are entirely out of government control. Social sciences, especially culture and music, are no longer taught in most schools in the area for fear of repercussions from Taliban observers. One of the local Taliban commanders, Mullah Zangi Badri, says his group are advocates of education taught based on strict Islamic rules and values.

An elder in the community, who for security reasons preferred not to be named, questioned the Taliban's commitment to education and accused the insurgent groups of racketeering in schools, extracting protection money from contractors who build education facilities. “For two years a company couldn't begin the construction of Khalid Bin Walid secondary school in Said Abad until it paid the the Taliban a huge sum of money in cash,” the elder told Afghanistan Today.

Government pays salaries of Taliban headmasters

Other schools in Said Abad district, such as Mashin Qala, Baghak, and Tangi, also have two headmasters. Mohammad Uslam, the Taliban's headmaster at Khalib Bin Walid high school, says he is paid by the hour and receives a government wage. Local Taliban commander Mullah Zangi says that all of the Taliban-approved teachers and their principals in the Tangi Valley are paid by the government. “But at the end of the day, regardless of who pays them, they all are with the Taliban,” Zangi told Afghanistan Today.

Education department director Fazulrahman Tariq says no Taliban appointee is paid by the government and there is no plan to pay any in the future. “We have one single and good curriculum that is being taught all over the country and it is has not been revised or changed by the Taliban,” says Tariq.

Pens, books and ordinary schoolchildren sit side-by-side in class with armed and masked Taliban insurgents. It is an ordinary sight in many secondary schools in volatile Wardak Province, the corridor to Kabul, where large numbers of students in classrooms live a double life as anti-government militants. Most schools in districts near the Kabul-Kandahar Highway, nicknamed the Highway of Horrors, have two headmasters, one government appointed and another chosen and approved by local Taliban commanders.

A teacher at the Shaida Apran high school in Chak district, near a large electrical dam, says he doesn't concern himself with what extra-curricular activities the students have. “It’s not important for me with whom my students are affiliated or what they do outside of the school. Regardless of what they do and who they do it with, once they enter the school they are only students,” says Shafiullah Lmar.

Nearly half of Wardak's 160,000 schoolchildren go to school in areas where there is limited, or even no government control. The Taliban's footprint on communities is stronger than in other areas of Afghanistan and guns are as common a sight in the playground as satchels. One students says the laissez-faire attitude towards guns in schools reflects teachers' sympathies.

A larger number of teachers, directly or indirectly, are supporting the Taliban movement. Every time we come to school with our arms they let us in,” says Muslim, a 12th grade student and young Taliban fighter at Arabano high school in Chak district.

Teachers at Hazrat Omer Farooq school on the other hand say not only some teachers, but also the majority of 10th, 11th and 12th grade students are affiliated with the Taliban, reshaping the local education landscape. Shahadat relihious school in Chak was forced to relocate this year from a purpose-built facility to classes in makeshift tents in Maidan Shar, a safer district. Local Taliban had objected to Shahadat's course of study, which included national curriculum subjects such as English, maths, social sciences and philosophy, according to one student. Insurgents not only forced teachers to stop teaching music classes but had also begun to camp out in the school premises at night.

With the province practically under the control of local Taliban groups, the government has little choice but to co-administer the schools. Khalid Bin Walid high school is an example of a hybrid management structure whereby a government and a Taliban appointed headmaster run the school together. The school's government appointed principle, Bakht Noor Hatif, says his schools is located in one of the province's most insecure areas. “The quality of education is poor,” Hatif told Afghanistan Today. Hatif says the quality of education in the school is “poor” but that the influence of the Taliban helps encourage former and current combatants to enroll in education.

Government officials acknowledge the hybrid system in schools but play down the influence of the Taliban. “There are principals and teachers assigned by the Taliban but they have no role in decision making on school affairs. Their roles are mostly symbolic,” says Fazulraham Tariq, director of the provincial department of education in Wardak province.

Reports from schools suggest the opposite. One headmaster in Wardak says that if he or his teachers were to refuse the demands of their Taliban 'colleagues', their lives and those of their families would be in danger. Casualty figures relect the stark reality: nearly 80 of the school's students have been killed in the last two years. Most were killed in battles fighting government forces with local insurgent groups.

Ataullah Khogaini, spokesman for the Wardak governor, says they have heard such rumors but neither the central government nor they have received any official evidence to prove that the students in the province are involved in anti-government insurgency.

Yet the evidence is clear across vast areas of the strategically important province near the capital Kabul. The Tangi Valley of Said Abad district, five kilometres from the Kabul - Kandahar highway – one of the marquee projects of local PRT teams - is entirely out of government control. Social sciences, especially culture and music, are no longer taught in most schools in the area for fear of repercussions from Taliban observers. One of the local Taliban commanders, Mullah Zangi Badri, says his group are advocates of education taught based on strict Islamic rules and values.

An elder in the community, who for security reason preferred not to be named, questioned the Taliban's commitment to education and accused the insurgent groups of racketeering in schools, extracting protection money form contractors who build schools. “For two years the contractor couldn't begin the constriction Khalid Bin Walid secondary school in Said Abad until it paid the the Taliban a huge sum of money in cash,” says the elder.

Other schools in Said Abad district, such as Mashin Qala, Baghak, and Tangi, also have two headmasters. Mohammad Uslam, the Taliban's headmaster at Khalib Bin Walid high school says he is paid by the hour and receives a government wage. Mullah Zangi, a local Taliban commander, says that all of the Taliban-approved teachers and their principals in the Tangi Valley are paid by the government. “But at the end of the day, regardless of who pays them, they all are with the Taliban,” Zangi told Afghanistan Today.

Education department director Fazulrahmand Tariq says no Taliban appointee is paid by the government and there is no plan to pay any in the future. “We have one single and good curriculum that is being taught all over the country and it is has not been revised or changed by the Taliban,” says Tariq.