KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Taliban's governing body decided to open schools in the areas controlled by the militants in Afghanistan, the purported chief spokesman for the hardline militia told The Associated Press.
Abdul Hai Muthmahien said that Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders decided that from March, Islamic education will be provided in at least six southern provinces — first for boys and later for girls.
"The U.S. and its allies are doing propaganda against the Taliban," Muthmahien said in a phone call to an AP reporter from an undisclosed location late Saturday. "Taliban are not against education. The Taliban want Shariah (Islamic) education."
During its six years of fundamentalist rule, the former Taliban regime barred girls from class, and it has since waged a campaign of violence against state schools. Since its ouster by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, millions of Afghan children — including girls — have gone back to school, many for the first time.
The Taliban's announcement appears aimed at undermining the standing of the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai and challenging its writ over southern regions where insurgents have a foothold. It's the first sign since the militia's ouster that it wants to provide social services.
The Taliban last year carried out about 200 arson attacks on state schools and killed some 20 teachers, as its insurgency has gathered strength.
That's been a setback to a massive foreign-backed education campaign over the past five years to get Afghan children back to school — regarded as one of the successes in efforts to rebuild the war-battered country.
Since the Taliban's ouster, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of children attending school, according to a report by the development agency Oxfam, published late last year.
Some 5 million children, including girls, now attend school in Afghanistan, up from less than a million during Taliban rule. But 7 million children still do not receive any formal instruction.
Muthmahien said the Taliban's ruling council, or shura, had alloted $1 million to fund the new schools to open in the provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, Helmand, Nimroz and Farah, and it would provide textbooks — the same used during Taliban rule. He said the schools program had been agreed with tribal elders in those regions.