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Confusing, contradicting or changing? A Taliban statement on education

March 9, 2012

“Promotion of education inside the country is one of the main objectives of the Islamic Emirate”

The Taliban long ago recognised that their “policy” towards education – in particular their violent rejection of education for girls and women was (and still is) one of the key reasons for many Afghans and the international community to reject their regime, justify its removal and fiercely oppose their return in any form.  During the 1990s and even after their defeat in 2001, they explained that they could not deal with female education because they were in a war situation.  When peace was assured, then they would issue their decisions on education.  But the Taliban have struggled to come up with some form of justification or rectification of this educational approach, other than the slightest of a shadow of a hint that perhaps mistakes had been made.  However, they appear painfully aware that this issue, almost above all others, is causing them to lose hearts, minds, supporters and donors.

This statement, which came out yesterday, is one of the strongest statements I have seen by the Taliban to attempt to correct this situation.  They claim (with a strange logic) that the international community have been responsible for destroying schools and that they, the Taliban, deserve the credit for the ones that are now in existence.  Above all, the Taliban hasten to inform that they are not opposed to education as such, but rather the type of curriculum that is being taught.

8 March 2012

…the invading forces in Afghanistan and their domestic stooges have inflicted heavy losses on the education system of the state and have misused this phenomenon as negative propaganda against the Islamic Emirate.  Just now in many parts of the country either by the direct or the indirect support and assistance of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, thousands of schools are on the go and millions of students are studying there. In fact without the support of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan the execution of these schools would not be possible.

8 March 2012:

So, the Islamic Emirate in general does not resist education in the whole country. Of course the Islamic Emirate will not support that curriculum which is the filthy gift of the colonialists.

This is where you could almost see their point.  This year is likely to see increasing attempts by the Taliban’s media operations to reinforce messages about governance.  But where the Taliban continue to fall down, is their inability (or unwillingness) to develop any issue in detail.  In the statement, we are told that the Taliban support a “knowledge-friendly policy” and “a curriculum which manifests our Islamic and national ideals and reflects the vital needs of the nation”.  I know I shouldn’t be criticising the Taliban for failing to look like a Western government, but it’s hardly a White Paper, is it?

At the moment I am not convinced this really changes much other than to remind us that the Taliban are increasingly aware of understanding and using the media.  They are certainly in the business of making some effort to correct negative press against them.  Sometimes, this is not necessarily a bad thing, although the perception amongst themselves that they might be winning (and with a 2014 deadline for ISAF to pull out in mind) does not guarantee that any new approach will be followed up in the years to come.

This statement is likely to be picked up by the media – “new, softer, friendlier Taliban” – etc.  Groups inside and outside Afghanistan that still believe that the Taliban can be “defeated” and made to hand in their weapons and support the constitution and human rights can merely ridicule the Taliban statement.  More sensibly, the international community should be cautiously acknowledging this statement (albeit sceptically) and pressing them for detail.  If they cannot deliver on the detail, they are exposed.  If they can deliver, then suddenly they look a tiny bit more like a political movement with policies and less like a violent insurgency.

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