Counter-Terrorism: Using Schools as Weapons

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March 5, 2006: One reason why the Taliban government collapsed so quickly in late 2001, was because, for most Afghans, the government wasn't doing much besides putting the warring factions out of business. The current Afghan government has introduced reconstruction, which includes thousands of badly needed schools. The Taliban attacks the schools for being "un-Islamic" (educating girls, something the foreign donors insist on). But since the schools educate local children, and are often taught by members of local tribes, the people in the area see all this as something of theirs. Afghanistan's Langham province, in the northeast close to the Pakistani frontier, has been plagued by frequent Taliban attacks on schools and teachers, most recently against a girls' school in late January. As a result, tribal leaders in have decided to begin providing their own security. Several of the local tribes have developed a plan to hire and equip young men to serve as security guards at local schools, and to back them up, if necessary, with tribal militiamen.

This decision has implications on several levels. It does commit the local tribes more openly than in the past to an anti-Taliban stance. But it also signals that the Afghan government is not sufficiently capable of providing security in remote regions. Which means the tribes will cling to their militias in the foreseeable future. As the government has been trying to get the tribes to give up their militias, often by integrating the fitter men into the National Army or Police.

Taking a longer view, however, the decision of the tribal elders is fully in keeping with the way Afghanistan has always operated, with a relatively weak central government lighting overseeing some aspects of national life, while tribes and local warlords maintain internal security.

 


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