The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Taliban cries "Uncle"

With the mainstream media in the country obsessing on the Pickton trial, the biggest story out of Afghanistan has gone unreported.

The Taliban announced last Sunday that they have decided to open their own schools! The first classes start in March.

The significance of this can't be overstated. It's a clear signal of defeat. This is bigger than the military thumping they got from NATO forces during Operation Medusa last September.

Three weeks ago, The Black Rod noted that Mullah Omar, in his first interview in five years, talked about the Taliban's purported concern for the education of girls. And we red-flagged the significance of this surprising declaration.

"Girls schools were either too few or were nonexistent before we took over," he said. "We were preparing a strategy for girls' education in accordance with the Sharia."

The mere fact he's claiming that the Taliban planned schools for girls shows that education is a fault line in the battle for the allegiance of Afghan citizens. And the Taliban knows its losing on the issue.

Now we see just how huge that fault line has grown.

Education has become a top priority of the largely illiterate villagers of Afghanistan. Obviously the Taliban's campaign of murder and intimidation of teachers has not gone over well. So, if you can't beat 'em, or kill 'em, or scare 'em, you better join 'em.

The Taliban say they've set aside $1 million (U.S., of course) to start 10 schools in the six southern provinces nearest Pakistan. The teachers will likely come from religious schools in Pakistan.

"Taliban are not against education. The Taliban want Shariah (Islamic) education." Abdul Hai Muthmahien, the chief spokesman for the insurgents, said to Associated Press.

"The aims are to reopen schools so children who are deprived can benefit and secondly, to counter the propaganda of the West and its puppets against Islam, jihad and the Taliban," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The new schools' curriculum will be based on the Koran and the Sunnah, which means they will be heavy on indoctrination and light on academics.

When they were in power, only about one million boys went to school, where the focus was on the study of the Koran and Mohammed's life. The Taliban regime forbade the teaching of geography, physics, maths, biology and modern history.

They banned girls from schools in Kabul. In the hinterland, girls could go to school until they turned 8 and only to study the Koran. The new schools will be boys only at first, with minor girls allowed later (Thank you Mullah Omar).

Oxfam says that currently in Afghanistan more than five million girls and boys are attending schools across the country, still less than half the children in the country. About 200,000 children are out of school because of Taliban intimidation.

Last year the Taliban burnt down almost 200 schools and killed 41 teachers. The Taliban target schools to show villagers the government is weak and can't protect them. In many areas, say analysts, schools are the only symbol of government authority.

But the anti-school campaign only antagonized Afghans for whom education is a promise of a better future.

NATO troops noticed something very different about kids in Afghanistan. Canwest reporter Peter Goodspeed reported on this earlier this month:

(Published: Saturday, January 13, 2007)
On tours of the dusty countryside, Canadian soldiers always draw crowds of curious children, Gen. Fraser says."But in Afghanistan, when they swarm around you, what do they ask for? A pencil -- not candies, like kids in most other places -- but a pencil! They want to learn."

And schooling can be very subversive--- if you're an insurgent.

Last week the Aspen Daily News carried a story about Julie Bolz, a former lawyer now doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan... (emphasis ours)

" has a ripple effect, Bolz said. She related the story of a 9-year-old Afghan girl who lived in the village where the American Friendship Foundation built its first school. The girl begged her father to let her attend the school, but the man, still skeptical, wouldn't have it.

The girl went to school anyway and learned to read her native language. When her father, who was illiterate, received an important letter, the girl confessed her secret and read the letter to her father. Instead of getting angry the grateful father hugged his girl.

Word of the girl's knowledge spread through the village and within six months, enrollment at the school jumped from about 400 to 1,000."

It's this momentum that is killing the Taliban's fortunes in the country. And which they hope to counter with Taliban schools.

They haven't got a chance.

As, year by year, millions of boys and girls get an education, they will drift further and further from the medieval mindset of the hardline Islamic terrorists.

And this is what Canada's mission in Afghanistan is all about.

In the meantime, we have to provide the muscle behind the government's own efforts to protect the schools in the country, like the new Neighbourhood Watch program they're setting up.

They call them Education Protection Commissions, which will be set up in each district to mobilize the local community to protect the local school. Each commission consists of the district government chief, the local security commander, the director of education, a cleric and a village elder. Most schools will have two or three people on guard. In the event of an attack, they will alert local residents by sounding an alarm or by phone.

The new programme is already showing its merit, Mohammad Seddiq Patman, the deputy minister of education, told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting:

" We've seen fewer attacks in the past few months," he said. "Even when there are attempts, local people prevent the attacks by cooperating with the local authorities.

In one such incident in Helmand last month, the commission's guards alerted villagers when insurgents tried to burn down a school.

They all rushed to the scene, and not only prevented the fire but captured the attackers as well," said Patman.

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