KABUL -- The Taliban's closure of 27 schools in Takhar Province, depriving thousands of children from pursuing their education, is un-Islamic and against Afghanistan's laws, local officials and civil society activists say.
Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested Taliban shadow education director Amir Mohammad Muzamel in early May.
In retaliation for the arrest and in an attempt to pressure the government to release Muzamel, the Taliban shut down the schools May 25 and threatened to kill principals, teachers and students.
"The Taliban has shut down eight schools in Yangi Qala District, four schools in Khwaja Bahauddin District and fifteen schools in Darqad District ... depriving 11,000 students -- girls and boys -- of education," Abdul Sami Abadyar, head of the provincial education department, told Salaam Times.
"The education department is apolitical, the purpose of which is to educate the children of all Afghans, including the Taliban's," he said. "Hence, the Taliban should not use education as leverage to meet their demands."
Twenty of the 27 closed schools are located in areas that are controlled by the Taliban, said Sunnatullah Taimuri, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
"In other areas where the Taliban are not dominant, they have warned teachers and students that they will be targeted," Taimuri told Salaam Times. "For this reason, sometimes schools shut down in order to protect teachers and students."
"By closing these schools, the Taliban is trying to force the local security officials to release their shadow head of education," he said. "Not only has their head of education not been released, a clearing operation is set to be launched in order to rid these areas of Taliban presence."
Officials did not provide further details on the operation.
"Closing the doors of schools and educational institutions is in contradiction with Islamic principles and contrary to Afghanistan's laws," said Burna Salehi, a Takhar-based civil society activist. "This action by the Taliban could cause major damage to the education system of Afghanistan."
"Closing educational centres, especially in a situation when Afghans are in serious need of education, displays the Taliban's obvious animosity towards Afghans," he told Salaam Times.
"During their reign, the Taliban deprived women ... of their right to pursue education," Sarah, 24, a student at Bakhtar University in Kabul, told Salaam Times.
"They have caused the greatest damage to the education sector. Now, by shutting down schools, they want ignorance and darkness to rule over the people and to prevent the development of Afghanistan," she said.
In contrast to the Taliban, tribal elders and residents of Musa Khil District, Khost Province, on May 13 decided in a tribal jirga to protect girls' education by imposing a fine of 5,000 AFN ($70) for anyone who prevents girls from going to school.
They described the measure as part of "our religious duty to prevent the spread of ignorance and darkness".
Over the years "nearly 11,000 schools have been shut down across Afghanistan and about 3 million to 3.5 million children are deprived of education, due to the lack of security and deterrence and threats made by the Taliban," Kabir Haqmal, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education, told Salaam Times.
In Logar Province, the Taliban shut down 30 schools in Charkh District on March 30 after Afghan National Defence and Security Forces killed local Taliban commander Maulvi Mohammad, said Salim Saleh, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
The schools were reopened 10 days later, thanks to the mediation and intervention of religious scholars, tribal elders and students' parents.
But the Taliban's aggression against schools continued.
On April 10, unidentified gunmen broke into a girls' school in Mohammad Agha District, Logar Province, where they beat and tied up the unarmed school attendants before attempting to set the school ablaze. The incident did not stop students from returning the next day, according to the Education Ministry.
Similar incidents have taken place in Ghazni Province.
"A week ago on May 22, after being defeated in their fight against Afghan security forces, the Taliban set on fire and destroyed parts of Sultan Shahabuddin School, where nearly 4,000 students are educated," said Mohammad Aref Nuri, a spokesman for the Ghazni provincial governor.
"In areas under their control, the Taliban do not allow girls to study beyond 6th grade," he told Salaam Times. "For this reason, most girls' schools in some of Ghazni Province's districts are closed."
How likely is it that the Taliban will join peace talks with the Afghan government in time for parliamentary elections in October?