KUNDUZ -- The Taliban are continuing to show animosity toward Afghan women and girls in Takhar Province after the militants set fire to a girls' school in a village near the provincial capital Monday (February 3).
The Taliban set fire to Bodala Girls' Middle School, 5km from Taloqan city, at 11am, burning all of its contents, said Muhammad Jawad Hejri, spokesman for the Takhar governor. The school was not in session at the time of the blaze.
"Girls attended this school, and as [the Taliban] don't want girls to go to school, they set fire to the school building," he said.
"The local government has assigned a committee to undertake a complete assessment of the incident," he said.
Rohullah Mohaqiq, director of the Takhar Department of Education, confirmed the incident, saying 292 girls attended the school.
"Unfortunately, the enemies of education have set fire to our girls' school, where four classrooms, 200 various books, seven tents, 50 tables and chairs, four water coolers and other pieces of equipment have been completely burned," he said.
"The books had the names of 'Allah' and 'Muhammad' on them, and they have been burned to ashes," he added.
Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, mentioned the incident, including the destruction of school materials and the Koran, on his Facebook page.
"The Taliban's enmity toward women and even children's education is nothing new as they have several times destroyed schools, mosques, hospitals, roads, bridges and [other] public installations on the orders of outsiders," he wrote.
About 400,000 students -- 43% of whom are girls -- are enrolled at 600 schools in the provincial centre and 16 districts of the province, according to the Takhar Department of Education.
Obstacle to education
Two years ago, the Taliban shut down dozens of schools in Takhar Province, depriving 11,000 children of an education.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested Taliban shadow education director Amir Mohammad Muzamel in May 2018. Since then, the militants have continued to target educational institutions, even threatening to kill principals, teachers and students.
In May 2018, the Taliban attacked girls' schools in districts of the province under militant control, said Wafiullah Rahmani, chairman of the Takhar provincial council.
"The Taliban didn't allow girls over sixth grade to go to school in six districts of Takhar," he said. "They enforced their own laws at schools and even shut down some schools in these districts."
A month later, district officials -- with the help of tribal elders -- were able to reopen 20 schools the group had closed in Darqad, Yangi Qala, Ishkamish, Khwaja Bahauddin, Dasht-e-Qala and Khwaja Ghar districts.
This year, female students faced security restrictions in some districts of the province, but these issues have been resolved with the help of local elders, said Mohaqiq, the director of the Takhar Department of Education.
"The Taliban even turned schools into their bases in these districts, due to which a number of school buildings have sustained damage," he said.
"As students are now on holiday, we're trying to repair and rehabilitate the schools that have seen destruction during the conflicts," Mohaqiq added.
Local residents called on the Taliban to stop targeting schools and to allow their children to get an education.
"Attacking schools is a big crime against humanity," said Muhammad Azeem Rasooli, a civil society activist in Takhar Province.
"As this barbaric group targets our schools today, I believe it will kill our students and teachers tomorrow as well," he said.
"You see that the Afghan government begs the international community for money to build schools, but look how easily [the Taliban] sets fire to them," said Qazi Abdul Basir Taloqani, a tribal elder in Takhar Province.
The Taliban set fires to schools, madrassas, mosques, public installations, security checkpoints, roads, clinics and other places, "which is a cowardly act", he added.
The Taliban have attacked dozens of mosques in Takhar and Kunduz provinces on the pretext of targeting military personnel. Last April, for example, the Taliban blew up a mosque in Dasht-e-Qala District.
Taloqani called on parties to the conflict not to turn schools into military bases and to let their children determine their future.
Security agencies have started their investigations into the latest incident, said Takhar police spokesman Abdul Khalil Aseer.
"We are trying to arrest the perpetrators as soon as possible and hand them over to law enforcement," he said.