Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Taliban continue to target girls

It's easy to battle little girls, they don't fight back.

With their teacher absent, 10 students were allowed to leave school early. These were the girls the gunmen saw first, 10 easy targets walking hand-in-hand through the blue metal gate and on to the winding dirt road.

The staccato of machine-gun fire pelted through the stillness. A 13-year-old named Shukria was hit in the arm and the back, and then teetered into the soft brown of an adjacent wheat field. Zarmina, her 12-year-old sister, ran to her side, listening to the wounded girl’s precious breath and trying to help her stand.

But Shukria was too heavy to lift, and the two gunmen, sitting astride a single motorbike, sped closer.

As Zarmina scurried away, the men took a more studied aim at those they already had shot, killing Shukria with bullets to her stomach and heart. Then the attackers seemed to succumb to the frenzy they had begun, forsaking the motorbike and fleeing on foot in a panic, two bobbing heads — one tucked into a helmet, the other swaddled by a handkerchief — vanishing amid the earthen color of the wheat.

Six students were shot here on the afternoon of June 12, two of them fatally. The Qalai Sayedan School — considered among the very best in the central Afghan province of Logar — reopened only last weekend, but even with Kalashnikov-toting guards at the gate, only a quarter of the 1,600 students have dared to return.

Shootings, beheadings, burnings and bombings: these are all tools of intimidation used by the Taliban and others to shut down hundreds of Afghanistan’s public schools. To take aim at education is to make war on the government.


n the southern provinces where the Taliban are most aggressively combating American and NATO troops, education has virtually come to a halt in large swaths of the contested regions. In other areas, attacks against schools are sporadic, unpredictable and perplexing.


But last month’s attack on the school caused parents to wonder if the school’s stalwart reputation had not itself become a source of provocation. Qalai Sayedan is 40 miles south of Kabul, and while a dozen other schools in Logar Province have been attacked, none has been as regularly, or malignly, singled out. Three years ago, Qalai Sayedan was struck by rockets during the night. A year ago, explosives tore off a corner of the building.


Shukria, the slain 13-year-old, was considered a polite girl who reverently studied the Koran. Saadia, the other student killed, was remarkable in that she was married and 25. She had refused to let age discourage her from finishing an education interrupted by the Taliban years. She was about to graduate.

Read the whole article, it's worth it to get a sense of the barriers put in place not only by the Taliban but the response of the Afghani villagers.