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Taliban fighters swap arms for books as hundreds return to school

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KABUL:

Gul Agha Jalali used to spend his nights planting bombs — hoping to target an Afghan government soldier or, better still, a foreign serviceman.

These days, the 23-year-old Taliban member is studying English and has enrolled in a computer science course in the capital, Kabul.

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“When our country was occupied by infidels, we needed bombs, mortars and guns,” says Jalali, an employee at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.

Now there is a greater need for education, he told AFP.

Since the Taliban swept back to power in August last year, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own or pushed by their commanders.

The word “Taliban” actually means “students” in Arabic, and the hardline group movement’s name stems from the religious schools in southern Afghanistan it emerged from in the 1990s.

Most Taliban fighters were educated in these madrassas, where studies are largely limited to the Koran and other Islamic themes.

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Many conservative Afghan clerics — particularly among the Taliban — are sceptical of more modern education, apart from subjects than can be applied practically, such as engineering or medicine.

“The world is evolving, we need technology and development,” said Jalali, who planted bombs for five years but is now among a dozen Taliban studying computers at the transport ministry.

‘Motivated mujahideen’

The desire of fighters like Jalali to go back to school showed Afghans yearned for education, government spokesman Bilal Karimi said.

“Many motivated mujahideen who had not completed their studies reached out to educational institutions and are now studying their favourite courses,” he told AFP.

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But education is a hugely problematic issue in the country, with secondary school girls barred from classes since the Taliban returned to power — and no sign of them being allowed back despite promises from some in the leadership.

While the earlier curriculum largely remains the same, studies on music and sculpture have been scrapped at schools and universities, which are suffering a paucity of teachers and lecturers following an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite.

But some Taliban students, like Jalali, have big plans.

Kabul’s Muslim Institute has a student body of around 3,000 — half of them women — and includes some 300 Taliban fighters, many distinctive with their bushy beards and turbans.

On a recent tour, AFP saw one Taliban fighter retrieve a pistol from a locker room at the end of his lessons — an incongruous sight in a pastel-coloured room adorned with posters of smiling co-ed students.

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“When they arrive, they hand over their weapons. They don’t use force or take advantage of their position,” said an institute official who asked not to be named.

Desire to study

Amanullah Mubariz was 18 when he joined the Taliban but never gave up his desire to study.

“I applied to a university in India, but I failed my English test,” said Mubariz, now 25, declining to reveal his current position in the Taliban.

“That’s why I enrolled here,” he said, referring to the Muslim Institute.

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Mohammad Sabir, in contrast, is happy to admit he works for the Taliban’s intelligence agency despite also being a student at the private Dawat University.

“I resumed my studies this year after the victory of the Islamic Emirate,” he says, his long hair and eyes lined with traditional kohl eyeliner peeking out from beneath a white turban.

Like Jalali, he paused his education to join the Taliban and also planted bombs and carried out ambushes with his brother in Wardak province.

All the Taliban students AFP spoke to said they wanted to use their education to help develop the country, so how do they feel about girls being deprived of that opportunity?

“Personally, as a young man, a student and a member of the Emirate, I think that they have the right to education,” said Mubariz.

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“They can serve our country the way we are doing.”

“This country needs them as much as it needs us,” added Jalali.



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‘Iran will act decisively after biggest protests in years’

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DUBAI:

Iran must deal decisively with protests which have swept the country after the death in custody of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday.

At least 41 people have been killed in the week-long unrest, state television said on Saturday. It said that toll was based on its own count and official figures were yet to be released. Protests have erupted in most of the country’s 31 provinces.

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State media quoted Raisi on Saturday as saying Iran must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity”.

Raisi was speaking by telephone to the family of a member of the Basij volunteer force killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

The president “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security, and called the events … a riot,” state media reported.

The protests broke out in northwestern Iran a week ago at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after falling into a coma following her detention in Tehran by morality police enforcing hijab rules on women’s dress.

Her death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women, and an economy reeling from sanctions.

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Read more: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards issue warning as protests over woman’s death spread

Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils. Some have publicly cut their hair as furious crowds called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.

On Friday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront “the enemies” behind the unrest.

In neighbouring Iraq, dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the United Nations compound in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday, carrying placards with Amini’s photograph and chanting “Death to the Dictator”, referring to Khamenei.

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State television in Iran, which has accused armed exiled Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, said Iranian Revolutionary Guards had fired artillery on bases of Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

‘Deadly response’

At least three times this week, mobile Internet has been disrupted in Iran, the NetBlocks watchdog has reported. Activists say the move is intended to prevent video footage of the violence reaching the world.

On Saturday NetBlocks said Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Skype video calling app was now restricted, the latest such measure after platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn were targeted.

In an effort to help sustain internet connection, the United States is making exceptions to its sanctions regime on Iran – a move which Tehran said on Saturday was in line with Washington’s hostile stance.

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Rights group Amnesty International said protesters face a “spiralling deadly response from security forces” and called for an independent United Nations investigation.

On the night of Sept. 21, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including three children, it said.

“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown,” Amnesty said.

State television showed footage purporting to show calm had returned to many parts of the capital Tehran late on Friday.

“But in some western and northern areas of Tehran and certain provinces rioters destroyed public property,” it said, carrying footage of protesters setting fire to garbage bins and a car, marching, and throwing rocks.

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The activist Twitter account 1500tasvir carried videos of protests near Tehran university on Saturday. Riot police were seen clashing with protesters and arresting some.

Videos posted on social media showed continued protests in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, late on Saturday, despite a heavy police presence. Reuters could not verify the videos.



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At least 26 killed in rain-related incidents in India

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NEW DELHI:

At least 26 people were killed in rain-related mishaps in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the last 48 hours, officials said on Saturday.

According to state officials, the casualties occurred as a result of building collapse, lightning strikes, and drowning reported from different parts of Uttar Pradesh affected severely by torrential rains.

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“In the last 24-48 hours, 26 people have died in rain/lightning-related incidents across the state,” relief commissioner Prabhu N Singh said. “We have sent an alert to all district magistrates. The immediate rescue and relief operation is the top priority, and teams are hard at work on it.”

Read more: India’s monsoon to start its retreat in next two days

Rainfall also lashed other regions of northern India, including the national capital New Delhi, causing life to grind to a halt due to severe waterlogging and snarled-up traffic.

The authorities have ordered the closure of schools on Friday in the cities of Noida and Gurugram on the outskirts of the capital.

Mahesh Palawat, the chief meteorologist of Skymet Weather Services, told Anadolu Agency that the current rainfall is the final phase of monsoon rains across northern India.

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“The northern parts of India have been experiencing intermittent rainfall for the last three days, which has also resulted in waterlogging at some places,” he said, adding that the intensity of the rainfall will decrease on Sunday and the current weather trend will end on Monday.

 



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Indian nationals in Canada to exercise caution citing hate crimes

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NEW DELHI:

The Indian government on Friday advised its nationals in Canada to exercise caution citing “incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada.”

Police in Texas arrested a woman who they said shouted racial abuse at four Indian women in a viral video, telling them to “Go back to India,” in an incident happened earlier in August brought to the attention of federal authorities.

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“This incident is a hate crime in accordance with Texas laws,” police in Plano, Texas, where the incident occurred, said in a statement on Saturday.

“This incident may also be a hate crime based on federal law, and we are working closely with the FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on this case.”

In a video of the incident, which was shared on social media and got millions of views, the woman was seen shouting racist comments in a parking lot at a group of four women of Indian origin.



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