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Taliban tightens grip on Afghan schools

From Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1055 GMT (1855 HKT)
  • Recently, the Taliban demanded the closure of some schools
  • "The Taliban are fine with us as long as we do what they want," a teacher says
  • This power struggle in classrooms is symptomatic of broader fears
  • Some wonder if the Taliban will tighten its grip on daily life as war nears an end

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- In parts of rural Afghanistan a fierce battle is going on between the Taliban and the country's government. And the victims in this battle, it seems, are school children.

Recently, the Taliban demanded the closure of some schools in two eastern provinces. In Ghazni province, the closure of schools was in retaliation for the government's ban on motorbikes often used by insurgents. In Wardak province, the Taliban has been a little more compromising, locals say, and has allowed some schools to open late after making changes to the curriculum.

"The Taliban are fine with us as long as we do what they want. They tell us what to teach and what not to. If we don't do what they say they have a representative who comes checking things," one teacher said. "They have increased the number of hours we teach religious subjects in a week and decreased other subjects like English. If we didn't, they would threaten teachers, and it is very much possible that they would close the school down."

This power struggle in classrooms is symptomatic of broader fears about the future. As the U.S.-led military effort winds down in Afghanistan will the Taliban tighten its grip on daily life in the country?

CNN's cameras were allowed in one classroom in Wardak but those interviewed will not be identified for their own safety.

In this classroom, teaching is allowed but a Taliban minder oversees the syllabus. One student in the class says he does not mind.

"The Taliban have only increased the religious subjects in our day-to-day schedule, which is very good as people should learn religious subjects," he said.

Mohammad Sediq Patman, a deputy education minister said the government has to be flexible in order to keep schools open. In areas where the Taliban had more control, sometimes the government lets them influence what subjects are taught and even allows them to check student attendance, Patman said.

"There was no deal between the government and the Taliban, but only in order to keep the schools open and running the Education Ministry had shown flexibility to this issue," he said.

One Taliban school minder spoke to CNN but chose to cover his face on camera so that he could not be identified.

"We didn't allow schools to be opened here at the beginning of the school year because we wanted them to change," the Taliban minder said. "Then we had a big meeting with school officials and concluded we would allow school to start, but teaching should be according to our principles and Islamic principles. They accepted that. We have only increased Islamic subjects so that even when a person becomes an engineer, he should have enough knowledge in Islam."

The minder said he was implementing instructions from Taliban leader Mullah Omar as are many others across Afghanistan.

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