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Loya Paktia

Some reader feedback on a post I did about a Female Engagement Team (FET) and their efforts in Helmand:

Wow. Really Dude? I love most of your stuff, but this one is way off kilter. What does someone in Kabul know about the workings of FET programs in Helmand (where the Marines are)? In rural populations far outside of the bustle of cities built for 500,000 people, it is, in fact, taboo for females to receive an education.

Hear that, folks? My stuff inspires love. But apparently I am also way off kilter. And enjoying the palm fans and grapes here in Kabul. Which, FYI are delicious.

Here’s why I love the interwebs: the assumptions one can make from high atop one’s virtual ivory tower. I have done the same. Frequently. It’s one of the true joys of blogging, to pass unwarranted and unfounded judgment on the perceived shortcomings of others.

The author of this comment has concluded that, because I am at this point based in Kabul, that there’s no possibility that I might have any experience of the larger Afghan world besides my seat in a cushy ‘hood here in K-town.

That I’ve never had to shout myself hoarse into a cell phone that only works half the time trying to get one of my workers evac’d to Kabul after he’d been hit by an IED.

That I’ve never had to try to figure out why some of our other workers were kidnapped and shot because they had the audacity to try and find a job with us.

That I’ve never sat down with ANP and had them walk me through how 5 of my workers were gunned down by some of their supposed “friends” in the middle of the night.

That I’ve never had to explain to other workers why they didn’t have enough food, supplies, or ammunition to to the job we needed them to do, and had to stand there while some guy from Wardak pleaded with me to get them some help. And even though he was only getting paid about $20 a month, he would still put up with his living hell that others call a “job” because it still paid better than anything else he could do.

Good thing I’ve never done any of those things, and that I’m just passing judgment on the masses from Kabul. I probably just read about that stuff somewhere.

As to the assertion that it’s taboo for females to receive an education, which is in  reference to this quote from the original article on the FET that I blogged about…

One of those ways involves reaching out to the local female populace through education. However, education – particularly education for females – is taboo.

…I may have been too subtle in my original post. Fact is, education for Afghans, even for females, isn’t taboo. Allow me to illuminate further, since I want to make information accessible to my readers. I apologize: clicking on the original link to this report by the Afghan Analyst Network’s recent report on education was asking too much.

In early 2011, reports were emerging of girls’ schools reopening in some areas, namely in Logar and then in Loya Paktia. In Ghazni, local sources confirmed that the Taleban no longer opposed girls going to school, but insisted on certain conditions, such as the girls covering their faces. In some areas, such as Kunduz, girls’ schools were already reopening in summer 2010. Only female teachers were reportedly allowed for the
older girls (over nine years of age). In Kunar, the Taleban were allowing girls to go to school in 2011, reportedly because the local communities asked them to do so, although the conditions imposed varied across the districts: in Chapadarra, girls were allowed until the eighth class; in Naray and Watapur, until the eleventh; in other places, until they completed the twelfth class.

However, it’s apparent that this particular shift in Taleban policy hasn’t necessarily reached the lower echelons:

In most of the country, however, the field commanders had not received any instruction in this regard. As the typical Taleb commander put it
in early 2011, Taleban oppose girls’ schools staunchly. They don’t allow schools for girls even if the syllabus of Taleban is taught there.

“The present circumstances are not appropriate for female education.”

More specifically another Taleb elaborated, in line with the official line of the Taleban since the 1990s:

“They oppose female education because there are some problems in it for the time being. It is not appropriate to send girls to schools in the presence of Western forces in Afghanistan. Girls will be allowed to attend schools after peace is restored and the situation is normal.”

Then there’s this:

A related aspect of the new educational effort linked to the Taleban is the appearance in Kabul of a new NGO led by Mullah Zaeef, dedicated to building schools for boys and girls.

In case you’re not terribly clear as to who this Mullah Zaeef cat is, look him up on the Google: kind of a big deal.

And then there’s this report in The Guardian in January of 2011:

The Taliban’s leadership is prepared to drop its ban on girls’ schools, one of Afghanistan’s most influential cabinet ministers has claimed.

According to Farooq Wardak, the country’s education minister, the movement has decided to scrap the ban on female education that helped earn the movement worldwide infamy in the 1990s.

Wardak said the Taliban’s leadership had undergone a profound change since losing power after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

“It is attitudinal change, it is behavioural change, it is cultural change,” he told the Times Educational Supplement.

“What I am hearing at the very upper policy level of the Taliban is that they are no more opposing education and also girls’ education.”

However, it is unlikely that an official nationwide policy announcement would be made by the Taliban:

Alex Strick van Linschoten, a leading analyst of the Taliban, said an announcement was unlikely in the near future.

“They are unlikely to announce things like this since it will all come up in any potential negotiations and this is one ‘concession’ they could make to the foreigners,” he said.

As a side note, Mr. van Linschoten also does stuff with books, like this one by Mullah Zaeef. So he knows some words.

The whole AAN report is worth a read, and it by no means paints the picture that schools for girls are widely accepted, but there is increasingly solid evidence that, while not nearly at the level it should be, that education, even in the rural areas, is far from taboo. Unless taboo doesn’t mean what I think it means.

But, as always, since I don’t know anything about this place, I might just be reading the whole thing wrong. Now, I’m late for the spa. I just hope they don’t cancel my appointment like they did the last time. War…is hell.


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