Taliban to Afghan Girls: Go to School, Drop Dead

Hardliners blamed for poisoning 150 schoolgirls.

An Afghan schoolgirl looks on as she sits in a classroom in a Turkish-Afghan school in Herat.

An Afghan schoolgirl looks on as she sits in a classroom. This is the face of a scholar who risks her life every time she opens a book. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

About 150 high-school girls in the northern Afghanistan Takhar province drank poisoned water in their classrooms and fell ill Tuesday. The attack is a presumed calling card from hardliner Afghan sects. Hardliners consider the education of females to be an abomination rather than a human right.

The one bright sign that Afghan society was plodding out of the Dark Ages could be seen in the strides made for women’s rights.

The country’s Taliban government, sidelined from power by an American-led intervention in 2001, had enforced a strict ban on girls attending schools. Once the Taliban took to the hills, Afghan girls, particularly in Kabul, picked up their schoolbooks.

Education officials in the Takhar region, as reported by Al Jazeera, suspect Tuesday’s high-school poisoning was the work of so-called conservatives agitating for a return to the days when basic literacy was conserved for male minds only.

“We are 100 per cent sure that the water they drunk inside their classes was poisoned,” said Jan Mohammad Nabizada, a spokesman for education department in northern Takhar province.

“This is either the work of those who are against girls’ education or irresponsible armed individuals,” Nabizada said.

Some of the 150 girls were allowed to return home after hospital treatment; an unspecified number remained in critical condition.

Hardliner attacks on Afghan schoolgirls have a long precedent.

  • Seven Kabul schoolgirls were hospitalized by an August 28, 2010, poison gas attack on their classroom.
  • Kabul hospitals treated schoolgirls poisoned in gas attacks on May 11, 2010.
  • A May 10, 2010, poison attack on girls’ classrooms hospitalized dozens of girls in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly 50 teenage girls were hospitalized by poison on May 11, 2009, in the norther town of Charikar.
  • Sixteen schoolgirls were victims of a Taliban acid attack while walking to school on November 15, 2008.

This past weekend’s running gun, rocket, and grenade battles between Taliban insurgents and Western-backed Afghan security forces in the streets of Kabul are the loudest indication that security has failed to improve in the country since the 2001 American-led intervention.

The Taliban-aligned hardliners have never been so far from power that they were unable to reach out and kill the brother of interim President Hamid Karzai, stage suicidal hotel invasions, or siphon off U.S. aid funds. Our allies in the country, suspected mass murderers among them, can be as unsavory as our foes.

Following the coalition’s marginalization of the Taliban, the one bright sign that Afghan society was plodding out of the Dark Ages could be seen in the strides made for women’s rights. In Kabul, women rose on their heels and banded together to protest street harassment. This display of empowered femininity lasted for at least one afternoon. Perhaps its memory will inspire a future generation of Afghan women in their one-sided struggle against a society that treats females as chattel.

But, really, Afghanistan after the Taliban is a country where a rape victim being released from the obligation to marry her attacker is presented as proof that women’s rights are on the rise. The poisoning of these schoolgirls is meant to be a sign of things to come once the U.S. withdraws and the Taliban re-takes its seats in the Afghan parliament.

If you are female, Afghanistan is recognized as your most dangerous country on Earth.

Where else on the globe do women struggle with real and present risks to existence? Tell about it in comments.

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