Children are the biggest victims of Talibanization in Afghanistan; their future’s stolen at a very young age they are forced to choose Taliban Camps over schools. This happens with most of the kids in Southern parts of the country. However, in the Central part of the country, kids have the opportunity to go to school and get an education, because of non-radicalized society and supportive community.
It is early morning; I am packing my stuff for a journey to Helmand Laskhargah. It is a beautiful and green city, with muddy traditional and stone building houses. We’re in the middle of the city, accompanied by two locals, guiding us to our hotel. The traditional infrastructure of the hotel in a picture hanged in the wall reminds me of this province’s golden age when everyone could visit without fear in the 1960s, from my mother’s stories. We enter the room and open up the windows, through which we see the heartbreaking devastated city like a grieved widow with a black dress.
The devastated souls are the victim of radicalization and deprived of education in this province even worse than devastated buildings because we can rebuild building but stolen childhood can never come back. Kids are either abducted or forced to join Taliban insurgency groups and operate for their missions. Remarkably, kids are appointed for the different purpose by radicals including suicide killing, destroying schools, planting mines, ambush. Our mission today is to visit Taliban child fighters. We are told two out of three kids in the orphanage, are those whose parents are dead in conflicts. We’re heading to meet Niaz, a 10-year-old kid. Two years ago he was abducted by the Taliban for a special prim and knows a lot more about guns than books. He is an orphan too, whose family members including father, mother, sister, and brothers were killed by an airstrike of US coalition forces, and the insurgences were hiding in their village. He witnesses his parent’s death and retells about his father’s wounds and mother’s last words. It is heartbreaking talking to a kid, whose childhood is stolen by the Taliban, and left, with hatred and radical ideology.
When he explains how he was trapped saying “They told me to blow up myself, with a heavy magazine size vest bomb near the checkpoint, after you blow up we will give you 50 Afghani/60 pence”. He told back, what I will do with money, if I am no more alive and in the grave, later he successfully attempts to escapes from Taliban camp, walked until he came to a police outpost. Not a word of education, dream, hope, and future from his mouth.
This makes me to extremely upset to see the future of a kid is stolen from him. I am afraid; I’ll forget all, what if my questions are heartbreaking. I am trying to be kind enough with this beautiful soul, the victim of conflicts. I’m already thinking about what I’ll do what I’ll do for kids-Once I’m able to.
Niaz become an interviewee when I wanted to research the Taliban’s soft power, several weeks ago. He is an exception interviewee for me. Because when I saw his first interview, when he turning himself to police, it shows an image of poor guy psychologically oppressed, with torn old clothes, and deep grievance inside. When we ask about if he remembers his family, he says I remember no one. But I see my mom in my dreams, telling me we are waiting for you. Vulnerable kids are prey for the Taliban.
Majority of Kids in the same orphanage lost their families in conflicts. He is radicalized against US coalition because he was born after the 2001 invasion, saw nothing but war. This grievance is in the hearts and minds of this growing generation filled by the Taliban. The fact that NATO is assisting the government in the state building process is far from their understanding. However from their point of view, “The American just shoot, the national army is established for devastation and to fight against their own Taliban citizens." These basic radical statements by communities are all around this province instead of educating their kids about peace and love.
For many ways, Helmand’s kids suffer from radicalization like many other southern provinces of Afghanistan. It is the most dangerous and doesn’t seem like a typical province. Its nine million population, two third of them are kids in the age of school. Very little development in education to speak about, due to ongoing conflict 600 hundred thousand kids is out of school since 2009. A close look at the status of education reveals 417 schools are close. Currently, only 49,000 thousand girls and 21,000 boys are enrolled in 123 schools. Administrators of capital, negligence, Corruption among former education officials, insecurity and lack of resources made the situation for vulnerable kids’ hard and deprived them of getting an education. In addition, illegal appointments of teachers, presence ghost teachers, and corruption in the administrative level paved the way of even grabbing lands allocated for schools. On paper education reports are perfect, but in reality, there are no factual monitoring and evaluation reports that can present the reality of the education system in this province from 2005–2015. Thus, more effort on education by different mean is a better alternative for radicalization.
Fortunately, in the year 2018, both side understood the importance of education. Although they show it as a power game, still bureaucratic officials of Taliban representatives and government provincial department signed a 10 memorandum in July. Both sides are outlining, acknowledging and understanding their responsibility for providing education, in a cooperative pact. According to the agreement, all schools are government properties, but the responsibility of protection is on the Taliban, with staff. This bilateral agreement further pledged by members to reopen, schools that were closed due to fighting during previous years. Daud Shah Sharifi, provincial director for the central government stated that 33 schools are reopened by the Taliban after this agreement. Although, this agreement considered to be an achievement for the Taliban in power game, but central government emphasis more on the impact of the issue which is preventing kids from joining insurgency groups and radicalization. However, the Impact by years of war and outrage still keeps children out of school because there is still Radical believes among parents who prefer their kids not go to schools.
My second mission is to interview one Taliban child fighter in Central Part of Afghanistan, Bamyan. My purpose is to see radicalization impacts on children and visit child Taliban’s jail or orphanage in this Province; I, fortunately, failed because there are no children of Taliban in this province. Instead, in this city each and every child is going to school, no children are in cells for destructive purpose, no school is close, and no children out of School. I dig data to find even one child Taliban Fighter, it was wondering for me to see education as the core value of each and every parent over here and communities have very constructive values for their kids.
Ali is a fifth-grade student in Dahan Qalacha Middle school which is more than half an hour far from his home. Although he doesn’t have a security problem and fear of abduction by the Taliban, he had some struggles. Before having a proper school he studied under an open sky in rain and sunny days and finally a school was built to fulfill kids’ needs offering furniture, and school materials. When I ask him about his dreams, he replied with sparkling eyes that “I want to be a doctor”. He knows about his dreams, hopes, and future. I am extremely happy for him, unlike Niaz who did not know about his future and dreams. He said that “I may not eat food and have lunch but I want to leave early and go to school”. The calmest guy, I saw in this age, but extremely motivated towards getting a proper education.
I decided to interview Ali because; he seems for me similar to Niaz whom, I met in Helmand. Ali is calm, with sparkling eyes like him, same age ten years old. However, he is psychologically better than Niaz. Both of them are not rich but one has security with no influence of radicalization and violence in his life, but another is hugely affected by violence and lost his parents.
Bamyan has a population of five million people, similar to Helmand two third of them are in the age of school. It has 347 schools, where one hundred and thirty-five thousand kids study. Despite administrative problems, lack of school textbook, shortage of school building, poor teaching system, and other facilities still, students are highly motivated and attend schools. Comparatively, in this province, the system is operating better and students have the opportunity of going to schools and learn. My journey has been with sorrow and contentment.
To conclude, violence and extremism is the major obstacle in the way of educating children in some parts of Afghanistan. Insurgent groups force children to assist them in their violent mission or propagate extremism to have control over minds and hearts. That affects these kids psychologically. Thus they forget to think about a bright future instead of preferring violence and death in search of ever after such as Niaz. But those who are inspired by education and hopes for better future, they will struggle in each step with positive energy and study to accomplish goals like Ali, who is extremely motivated towards better future in very young age. Community and, parents also play role in paving the way for children in getting a better education. Helmand elders proved that by contracting with the government to take the responsibility of securing school, however, there is a concern to what extent these commitments are real from insurgency because they are not committed for education. In the case of Bamyan, we can see how communities are supportive of education. They not only provide moral support but also financial support in spite of being extremely poor. Afghanistan with a different perspective in its various areas, in the process of education, has a long way to reach a 100 percent literacy rate. In the end, I would like emphasis preventing radicalization is possible only through educating the minds and hearts of children.