Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban
In this combination of pictures, Afghan women persist on pursuing education despite the harsh restrictions imposed by the Taliban rulers. (AFP photos)
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Updated 13 August 2022

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban
  • Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam
  • To circumvent the restrictions, Afghan women and girls attend secret schools that have sprung up in rooms of ordinary houses across the country

KABUL: Nafeesa has discovered a great place to hide her schoolbooks from the prying eyes of her disapproving Taliban brother — the kitchen, where Afghan men rarely venture.
Hundreds of thousands of girls and young women like Nafeesa have been deprived of the chance of education since the Taliban returned to power a year ago, but their thirst for learning has not lessened.
“Boys have nothing to do in the kitchen, so I keep my books there,” said Nafeesa, who attends a secret school in a village in rural eastern Afghanistan.
“If my brother comes to know about this, he will beat me.”
Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Women can no longer travel on long trips without a male relative to escort them.
They have also been told to cover up with the hijab or preferably with an all-encompassing burqa — although the Taliban’s stated preference is for them to only leave home if absolutely necessary.
And, in the cruellest deprivation, secondary schools for girls in many parts of Afghanistan have not been allowed to reopen.
But secret schools have sprung up in rooms of ordinary houses across the country.
A team of AFP journalists visited three of these schools, interviewing students and teachers whose real names have been withheld for their safety.
This is their story.

Clandestine classroom
Decades of turmoil have played havoc with Afghanistan’s education system, so Nafeesa is still studying secondary school subjects even though she is already 20.
Only her mother and older sister know about it.
Her brother fought for years with the Taliban against the former government and US-led forces in the mountains, returning home after their victory imbued with the hard-line doctrine that says a woman’s place is the home.
He allows her to attend a madrassa to study the Qur'an in the morning, but in the afternoon she sneaks out to a clandestine classroom organized by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
“We have accepted this risk, otherwise we will remain uneducated,” Nafeesa said.
“I want to be a doctor... We want to do something for ourselves, we want to have freedom, serve society and build our future.”

 

When AFP visited her school, Nafeesa and nine other girls were discussing freedom of speech with their female teacher, sitting side-by-side on a carpet and taking turns reading out loud from a textbook.
To get to class, they frequently leave home hours earlier, taking different routes to avoid being noticed in an area made up mostly of members of the Pashtun ethnic group, who form the bulk of the Taliban and are known for their conservative ways.
If a Taliban fighter asks, the girls say they are enrolled in a tailoring workshop, and hide their schoolbooks in shopping bags or under their abaya and burqa overgarments.
They not only take risks, but also make sacrifices — Nafeesa’s sister dropped out of school to limit any suspicions her brother might have.

No justification in Islam

Religious scholars say there is no justification in Islam for the ban on girls’ secondary school education and, a year since taking power, the Taliban still insist classes will be allowed to resume.
But the issue has split the movement, with several sources telling AFP a hard-line faction that advises supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada opposed any girls’ schooling — or at best, wanted it limited to religious studies and practical classes such as cooking and needlework.
The official line, however, remains that it is just a “technical issue” and classes will resume once a curriculum based on Islamic rules is defined.
Primary girls still go to school and, for now at least, young women can attend university — although lectures are segregated and some subjects cut because of a shortage of female teachers.
Without a secondary school certificate, however, teenage girls will not be able to sit university entrance exams, so this current crop of tertiary female students could be the country’s last for the foreseeable future.
“Education is an inalienable right in Islam for both men and women,” scholar Abdul Bari Madani told AFP.
“If this ban continues, Afghanistan will return to the medieval age... an entire generation of girls will be buried.”

Lost generation

It is this fear of a lost generation that spurred teacher Tamkin to convert her home in Kabul into a school.
The 40-year-old was almost lost herself, having been forced to stop studying during the Taliban’s first stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, when all girls’ schooling was banned.
It took years of self-study for Tamkin to qualify as a teacher, only for her to lose her job at the education ministry when the Taliban returned last year.
“I didn’t want these girls to be like me,” she told AFP, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“They should have a better future.”
With the support of her husband, Tamkin first turned a storeroom into a class.
Then she sold a family cow to raise funds for textbooks, as most of her girls came from poor families and couldn’t afford their own.
Today, she teaches English and science to about 25 eager students.
On a rainy day recently, the girls trickled into her classroom for a biology lesson.
“I just want to study. It doesn’t matter what the place is like,” said Narwan, who should be in grade 12, sitting in a room packed with girls of all ages.
Behind her, a poster on a wall urges students to be considerate: “Tongue has no bones, but it is so strong that it can break the heart, so be careful of your words.”
Such consideration by her neighbors has helped Tamkin keep the school’s real purpose hidden.
“The Taliban have asked several times ‘what’s going on here?’ I have told the neighbors to say it’s a madrassa,” Tamkin said.
Seventeen-year-old Maliha believes firmly the day will come when the Taliban will no longer be in power.
“Then we will put our knowledge to good use,” she said.

'We are not afraid'

On the outskirts of Kabul, in a maze of mud houses, Laila is another teacher running underground classes.
Looking at her daughter’s face after the planned reopening of secondary schools was canceled, she knew she had to do something.
“If my daughter was crying, then the daughters of other parents must also be crying,” the 38-year-old said.
About a dozen girls gather two days a week at Laila’s house, which has a courtyard and a garden where she grows vegetables and fruit.
The classroom has a wide window opening to the garden, and girls with textbooks kept in blue plastic folders sit on a carpet — happy and cheerful, studying together.
As the class begins, one by one they read out the answers to their homework.
“We are not afraid of the Taliban,” said student Kawsar, 18.
“If they say anything, we will fight it out but continue to study.”
But the right to study is not the only aim for some Afghan girls and women — who are all too frequently married off into abusive or restrictive relationships.
Zahra, who attends a secret school in eastern Afghanistan, was married at 14 and now lives with in-laws who oppose the idea of her attending classes.
She takes sleeping pills to fight her anxiety — worried her husband’s family will force him to make her stay home.
“I tell them I’m going to the local bazaar and come here,” said Zahra of her secret school.
For her, she says, it is the only way to make friends.


13 dead, 21 wounded in school shooting in Russia

13 dead, 21 wounded in school shooting in Russia
Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

13 dead, 21 wounded in school shooting in Russia

13 dead, 21 wounded in school shooting in Russia
  • Russia’s interior ministry also said there were about 20 people injured in the attack

MOSCOW: A gunman killed 13 people, including seven children, and wounded 21 other people in a school in central Russia on Monday, authorities said.

Russia's Investigative Committee said the shooting took place in a school in Izhevsk, a city about 960 kilometres (600 miles) east of Moscow in the Udmurtia region. Those wounded were 14 children and 7 adults, the Committee said.
It added that the attacker “committed suicide.”
According to investigators, “he was wearing a black top with Nazi symbols and a balaclava” and was not carrying any ID.
“His identity is currently being established,” investigators said.
Russia’s interior ministry also said there were about 20 people injured in the attack.
The region’s governor Alexander Brechalov confirmed there were “casualties and wounded among children,” speaking in a video statement outside school No88 in Izhevsk.
Rescue and medical workers could be seen working at the scene in the background, some running inside the school with stretchers.
A city of around 630,000 people, Izhevsk is the regional capital of Russia’s Udmurt Republic, located around 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of Moscow.


Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military

Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military
Updated 26 September 2022

Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military

Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military

QUETTA, Pakistan: A Pakistani military helicopter crashed in the southwest area of the country late on Sunday killing all six soldiers on board, including two officers, the military said on Monday.
The helicopter crashed during a “flying mission” near Harnai in the province of Balochistan, the military’s public relations wing said in a statement. No reason for the crash was given.


Super Typhoon Noru leaves 5 rescuers dead in north Philippines

Super Typhoon Noru leaves 5 rescuers dead in north Philippines
Updated 26 September 2022

Super Typhoon Noru leaves 5 rescuers dead in north Philippines

Super Typhoon Noru leaves 5 rescuers dead in north Philippines
  • The victims drowned in rampaging waters after a collapsed wall hit the boat they were using to help residents trapped in floods
  • President Marcos orders supplies be airlifted and clean-up equipment be provided to most-affected communities

MANILA: Typhoon Noru blew out of the northern Philippines on Monday, leaving five rescuers dead, causing floods and power outages and forcing officials to suspend classes and government work in the capital and outlying provinces.

The most powerful typhoon to hit the country this year slammed into the coast in Burdeos town in Quezon province before nightfall on Sunday then weakened as it barreled overnight across the main Luzon region, where thousands of people were moved to emergency shelters, some forcibly, officials said.
Gov. Daniel Fernando of Bulacan province, north of Manila, said five rescuers, who were using a boat to help residents trapped in floodwaters, were hit by a collapsed wall then apparently drowned in the rampaging waters.
“They were living heroes who were helping save the lives of our countrymen amid this calamity,” Fernando told DZMM radio network. “This is really very sad.”
On Polillo island in northeastern Quezon province, a man was injured after falling off the roof of his house, officials said.

More than 17,000 people were moved to emergency shelters from high-risk communities prone to tidal surges, flooding and landslides in Quezon alone, officials said.
More than 3,000 people were evacuated to safety in Metropolitan Manila, which was lashed by fierce wind and rain overnight. Classes and government work were suspended Monday in the capital and outlying provinces as a precaution although the morning skies were sunny.
The entire northern provinces of Aurora and Nueva Ecija, which were hit by the typhoon, remained without power Monday and repair crews were at work to bring back electricity, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla told President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in a televised meeting he called to assess damages and coordinate disaster-response.

Marcos Jr. praised officials for evacuating thousands of people to safety as a precaution before the typhoon hit which prevented large number of casualties despite the Noru’s potentially disastrous force. He ordered supplies be airlifted and clean-up equipment be provided to most-affected communities.
“The point at which we can stand down is when the majority of evacuees are already back home,” Marcos said at a news conference with disaster management officials on Monday, referring to the 74,000 people who were forced into evacuation centers by the storm.
Luzon, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy and roughly half of the country’s 110 million population, started clean-up operations as floods in the capital region had started subsiding, officials said.
Noru underwent an “explosive intensification” over the open Pacific Ocean before it hit the Philippines, Vicente Malano, who heads the country’s weather agency PAGASA, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
From sustained winds of 85 kilometers per hour (53 mph) on Saturday, Noru was a super typhoon just 24 hours later with sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 240 kph (149 mph) at its peak late Sunday.
By Monday morning, Noru had sustained winds of 140 kph (87 mph) and gusts of 170 kph (105 mph) and was moving westward in the South China Sea at 30 kph (19 mph), according to the weather agency.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago also lies in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a region along most of the Pacific Ocean rim where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest recorded tropical cyclones in the world, left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines — well to the south of Noru’s path.

(With Reuters) 


Italy voters shift sharply, reward Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party

Italy voters shift sharply, reward Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party
Updated 26 September 2022

Italy voters shift sharply, reward Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party

Italy voters shift sharply, reward Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party
  • The formation of a ruling coalition could take weeks. If Meloni succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country’s premiership
  • Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, has never held office but looks set to form Italy’s most far-right government

ROME: Italian voters rewarded Giorgia Meloni’s euroskeptic party with neo-fascist roots, propelling the country toward what likely would be its first far-right-led government since World War II, based on partial results Monday from the election for Parliament.
In a victory speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni struck a moderate tone after projections based on votes counted from some two-thirds of polling stations showed her Brothers of Italy party ahead of other contenders in Sunday’s balloting.
“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country),” Meloni said at her party’s Rome headquarters.
“Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray (the country) as we never have.”
The formation of a ruling coalition, with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and center-right allies, could take weeks. If Meloni, 45, succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country’s premiership.
The mandate to try to form a government is given by Italy’s president after consultations with party leaders.

Meanwhile, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, whose government collapsed two months ago, stays on in a caretaker role.
Differences among Meloni’s potential coalition partners could loom.
She has solidly backed the supplying of Ukraine with arms to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. In contrast, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, who before the war was a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has voiced concern that Western sanctions could end up hurting Italy’s economic interests more that punishing Russia’s.
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, another long-time Putin admirer, has said that his inclusion in a center-right bloc’s coalition would guarantee that Italy stays firmly anchored in the European Union and one of its most reliable members.
With Italy’s households and businesses struggling with staggeringly high energy bills as winter approaches, Meloni has demurred from Salvini’s push to swell already-debt-laden Italy by tens of billions of euros for energy relief.
What kind of government the eurozone’s third-largest economy might be getting was being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and her ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.
After opinion polls in the run-up to the vote indicated she would be headed to victory, Meloni started moderating her message of “God, homeland and family” in an apparent attempt to reassure the European Union and other international partners, worried about euro-skepticism.
“This is the time for being responsible,” Meloni said, appearing live on television and describing the situation for Italy and the European Union is “particularly complex.”

She promised more detailed comments later on Monday. In her campaign, she criticized European Union officials as being overly bureaucratic and vowing to protect Italy’s national interests if they clash with EU policies.
Projections based on votes counted from nearly two-thirds of the polling stations in Sunday’s balloting indicated Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party would win some 25.7 percent of the vote.
That compared to some 19.3 percent by the closest challenger, the center-left Democratic Party of former Premier Enrico Letta. Salvini’s League was projected to win 8.6 percent of the ballots, roughly half of what he garnered in the last 2018 election. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, appeared headed to win 8 percent.
Meloni’s meteoric rise in the European Union’s third-largest economy comes at a critical time, as much of the continent reels under soaring energy bills, a repercussion of the war in Ukraine, and the West’s resolve to stand united against Russian aggression is being tested. In the last election, in 2018, Meloni’s party took 4.4 percent.
Fellow euroskeptic politicians were among the first to celebrate. French politician Marine Le Pen’s party also hailed the result as a “lesson in humility” to the EU.
Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that “millions of Europeans are placing their hopes in Italy.” Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”
Nearly 64 percent of eligible voters deserted the balloting, according to the Interior Ministry. That is far lower than the previous record for low turnout, 73 percent in 2018.
Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election — each led by someone who hadn’t run for office, and that appeared to have alienated many voters, pollsters had said.
Meloni’s party was forged from the legacy of a neo-fascist party formed shortly after the war by nostalgists of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign alliance. Meloni was buoyed by joining campaign forces with Salvini and Berlusconi.
The Democrats went into the vote at a steep disadvantage since they failed to secure a similarly broad alliance with the left-leaning populists of the 5-Star-Movement, the largest party in the just-ended legislature.
Headed by former Premier Giuseppe Conte, the 5-Stars appeared headed to a third-place finish, with some 16 percent of the vote. Had they joined forces in a campaign agreement with the Democrats, their coalition would have roughly take the same percentage of Meloni’s alliance
The election Sunday came six months early after Draghi’s pandemic unity government, which enjoyed wide citizen popularity, collapsed in late July after the parties of Salvini, Berlusconi and Conte withheld support in a confidence vote.
Meloni kept her Brothers of Italy party in the opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or the two previous coalitions led by Conte.
 


China’s Communist Party has elected delegates for congress

China’s Communist Party has elected delegates for congress
Updated 26 September 2022

China’s Communist Party has elected delegates for congress

China’s Communist Party has elected delegates for congress
  • Nearly 2,300 delegates representing all provinces and regions will pick members of the party’s Central Committee of around 200 members
  • The Central Committee will then vote for the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee, currently comprising seven people

BEIJING: China’s Communist Party said Sunday that it had elected all the delegates attending a key political meeting starting October 16, where President Xi Jinping is expected to secure an unprecedented third term.
The twice-in-a-decade conclave will also see a shuffle of personnel on the party’s powerful decision-making body, the 25-member Politburo.
“Each electoral unit across the country convened a party congress or party representative meeting and elected 2,296 delegates to the 20th Party Congress,” state broadcaster CCTV said.
The delegates must adhere to Xi’s political ideology in addition to the party constitution, CCTV said.
The representatives include women, ethnic minority party members and those specializing in various fields, such as economics, science and sports, CCTV said.
The congress in the capital Beijing comes as Xi faces significant political headwinds, including an ailing economy, deteriorating relations with the United States and a strict zero-Covid policy that has accelerated China’s inward turn from the world.

The congress is the most important date on China’s political calendar. It offers signposts on the direction the world’s second-largest economy will take in the near term and the extent of the sway that Xi has over the party with millions of members.
The nearly 2,300 delegates representing all provinces and regions will engage in a highly choreographed exercise to pick members of the party’s Central Committee of around 200 members.
The Central Committee will then vote for the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee — China’s highest leadership body and apex of power, currently comprising seven people.
Voting is mostly a formality — the pecking order of the Politburo and its Standing Committee is likely to have been decided well in advance. The overall duration of the congress is not yet clear.

Xi’s decade-long tenure has seen crackdowns on corruption within the party — which analysts say served to take down his political rivals — as well as the crushing of a democracy movement in Hong Kong and strict lockdowns on cities in the name of curbing the coronavirus.
He has faced harsh human rights criticism from the international community over repressive policies in the northwestern Xinjiang region, where an estimated one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorites have been detained in a sweeping crackdown ostensibly targeting “terrorism.”
He also ushered in an assertive “Wolf Warrior” foreign policy that has alienated Western democracies and some regional neighbors, and has pushed for closer ties with Russia while stoking nationalism at home.
He abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018 — originally set up by former leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to prevent another Mao-like dictatorship — leaving open the possibility of him becoming leader for life.