In a mysterious series of incidents, hundreds of schoolchildren have been poisoned during the last couple of weeks in several provinces across the country. Many are hospitalized. A mass fear has spread among students, and dozens of schools are closed down. The Government officials have yet failed to find out concrete reasons beyond initial doubts of poisoning by insurgents.
Minister of Education Farooq Wardak in a press conference on May 13 said about 530 schools have been closed down in southern and southeastern provinces. As a result over 30,000 enrolled students are deprived of education. He further said since April 20, there have been increased threats and attacks to schools in the militancy-hit areas particularly districts influenced by Taliban.
The poison-attacks have been reported in northern provinces. Taliban deny any involvement in these incidents. But over 40 schools have been closed in Ghazni, Maidan Wardak and Nangarhar since last month due to militant threats. Six Education Ministry officials were killed in Paktia recently.
Last month, Taliban in Ghazni threatened all schools in the provincial capital to be closed down. Over 30 schools, including the biggest girls' school in Ghazni city located close to Government buildings, have been shut down. Insurgents have thrown threat letters at night and visited some schools during the day warning teachers of serious consequences if schools remained open. Local Government officials in Ghazni say the Taliban threats are in response to Government ban on motorcycle riding. Taliban have warned local teachers unless the ban on motorcycle-riding is lifted, schools will be attacked.
However, the Government has failed to find out the mystery of poisoning of hundreds of students. Over 600 schoolchildren were poisoned on Tuesday May 15 in Khost province . Local officials say some poison might have been sprayed in the school. All the student of the primary school of Ismailkhail Mandozai district were hospitalized.
Similarly, over 30 students of a girls high school were poisoned in the peaceful Bamyan province last week. Teachers from Shirin Hazara Girls School confirmed that dozens of girls fell down unable to eat and drink. They were hospitalized and discharged later.
Victims of the latest incident of apparently serial attacks are schoolgirls in Takhar province, the third such incident in province in past two months. Dozens of children from Bibi Hajira High School in Taloqan city were hospitalized when they all fell sick suddenly. Four days earlier, 120 girls from the same school were 'poisoned'. There blood samples have been sent for laboratory checks. Students talk of a chemical smell which makes them unconscious and weak to fall down.
The official Taliban spokesmen have strongly denied any involvement in these incidents lashing out at media for accusing them. In an official statement, he said Taliban would punish those who were found involved in the poisoning of female students. It is hard to believe and buy Taliban propaganda. They are not a unified group of militants strictly organized. Local Taliban groups could be behind these poison attacks. However, it is very obvious that local militants have threatened schools in Ghazni, Maidan Wardak and Nangarhar provinces.
Taliban militants also forced closure of schools in many districts of Farah province last week. Five schools were closed in Gulistan district, according to local elders. Officials of Farah Provincial Council say militants routinely target schools. A teacher was killed last year and since then several schools in far-flung villages are closed due to security threat.
Similarly, many girls' schools have been closed in provincial capital of Miadan Wardak since May 05. Teachers talking to Pajhwok news agency have said Taliban militants threatened them to replace English-language subjects with Islamic courses, otherwise they will be attacked.
A Taliban commander in Maidan Shahr city Qari Rahmatullah talking to Pajhwok has confirmed that militants were acting on directions of their senior commanders and schools were threatened by them.
Zabihullah Mujahid would shy away from these facts, because he would like us to believe the PR propaganda that militants are not involved. They are playing well with it by blaming the 'western forces' and their 'supporters' for poisoning and closure of schools. In the areas of Maidan Wardark and Ghazni provinces where schools have been attacked or closed down, Taliban-era curriculum and teaching-methodology has been imposed and English language subjects are banned.
Afghan intelligence sources tell another story. They say the current series of attacks on schools across the country has been approved by top Taliban leadership from Quetta Shura in Pakistan. An inteligence officials on request of anonymity has told some media sources that a meeting of Quetta Shura was held in Quetta on April 28. Taliban commander Zakir Qayum was tasked to implement the decision to spread. It is unclear to understand the Taliban logic, if the intelligence official's claims are not mere counter-propaganda.
The poisoning attacks in Northern provinces and threat letters to schools in Ghazni, Nangarhar and Maidan Wardak has already closed down hundreds of schools and thousands of students are deprived of education. In a rare recent condemnation of the Taliban, President Karzai said "You did not let a religious scholar to read Quran. You did not allow you sons and daughters to go to school. And the people of Afghanistan were hostage for 18 years. You have not worked for independence of Afghanistan. You have done nothing for development of the motherland. But you have caused reasons for continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan".
The Government must launch a serious investigation into the mysterious poisoning attacks. They have yet to confirm usage of chemical or spray to have caused the mass illness of students. If Army and Police forces fail to provide enough security so that schools are run, it would increase public distrust on government.
On the other hand, people should stand up against Taliban if they deny the right to education for their children. Afghans should follow the example of villagers in Andar district of Ghazni where eleven Taliban were killed and 15 others held hostage by locals last week in response to closure of schools.
District Chief of Andar has confirmed to media that militants were resisted by locals in Painda Muhammad and Ibrahimkhel villages. A villager was killed and three children are injured. An elder from the district said they will not allow Taliban to close down schools. Unless there is local resistance against Taliban brutality, the Government alone and international security forces will not be able to defeat insurgency.