Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR
Lycee Naswan Principal Jamila Niazi in one of her classrooms.
Lycee Naswan Principal Jamila Niazi in one of her classrooms. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR
The re-emergence of the Taliban is threatening one of Afghanistan's greatest achievements in the post-Taliban era: education. Female students, whom the Taliban denounces as un-Islamic, are at greatest risk. Their teachers are kidnapped and killed. Their classrooms are torched. Their parents are threatened.
In the southern Afghan province of Helmand, the Taliban is waging war not only on foreign and Afghan troops, but on education. Of 224 schools that opened after the Taliban fell, at least 90 have been forced to close because of threats and attack — especially schools that teach girls.
The only remaining schools for girls are in the provincial capital Lashkargah, where the principal of one school, Jamila Niazi, says she endures repeated threats to her life.
But the girls and teachers keep coming — 6,000 of them to Niazi's school alone — saying it's worth the risk.
District schools supervisor Sayed Gol says intimidation and threats remain rare in Lashkargah. But he says he fears that may not last long.
He complains that so far, NATO's month-old Operation Achilles has caused more schools to close, due to the fighting, but also because the Taliban returns to villages and towns after Western and Afghan troops leave.
"We are unhappy with this campaign," Gol says. "It's had no effect other than to make things worse."
Gol says he hopes that the troops will speed up their efforts. But Dutch Gen. Ton van Loon, the NATO commander in charge of the troops, said at a news conference late last month that they are acting cautiously to ensure Afghan civilians are not caught in the crossfire.
For their part, Taliban spokesmen insist they are not targeting any Afghan schools. Except, they add, for those that teach Christian values or serve American interests.