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II. Background: Afghanistan Since the Fall of the Taliban

The Taliban’s Ouster, the Bonn Process, and the Afghanistan Compact

It has been more than four years since the United States ousted the Taliban from Kabul in retaliation for their support for Osama bin Laden and the large-scale murder of civilians in the United States on September 11, 2001. Much has improved in the lives of Afghans in the past four years, the most significant improvement perhaps being the ability to hope for a better future for Afghanistan’s next generation. But the hopes of many Afghans are today beset by a growing crisis of insecurity.

This crisis was predictable and largely avoidable. The failure of the international community, led by the United States, to provide adequate financial, political, and security assistance to Afghanistan despite numerous warnings, created a vacuum of power and authority after the fall of the Taliban. Where the United States and its allies failed to tread, abusive forces inimical to the well-being of the Afghan people have rushed in.

The United States and the international community too often favored political expediency over the more painstaking efforts necessary to create a sustainable system of rule of law and accountability and in Afghanistan. The Bonn Agreement, which in November 2001 (before the Taliban had been ousted) established a framework for creating a government in Afghanistan after the Taliban, focused on political benchmarks such as the selection of a transitional government, the drafting of a constitution, and holding presidential and parliamentary elections; it did not include clear guidelines about how these institutions were to operate. The first clear signal that the international community, and in particular its de facto leader in Afghanistan, the United States, would tolerate and even support the return of the warlords came during the Emergency Loya Jirga (“grand council”) convened in June 2002 to form Afghanistan’s transitional government. Although many warlords had been kept out of the meeting under the selection provisions, a last minute intervention by Zalmai Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan (and currently the U.S. ambassador to Iraq), and Lakhdar Brahimi, the special representative of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, gave access to all the major regional militia commanders. Their intimidating presence immediately distorted the proceedings and disappointed Afghans hoping for a new beginning.9 The authority and power of regional warlords and militia commanders grew with every step in the Bonn Process.10

The Bonn Process officially ended with the parliamentary elections of September 2005. Election day itself was relatively peaceful, but it followed a campaign marked by intimidation (especially against women candidates and voters) and voter discontent, ultimately reflected in a turnout much lower than expected.11

With the end of the Bonn Process, at the beginning of 2006 the international community established a new framework for its cooperation with the Afghan government for the next five years. This new framework––known as the Afghanistan Compact––was unveiled at an international conference in London in January 2006 with much fanfare and congratulatory rhetoric: The conference’s official tagline was “Building on Success.” The reality was more sobering. As U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was quick to point out in London, “Afghanistan today remains an insecure environment. Terrorism, extremist violence, the illicit narcotics industry and the corruption it nurtures, threaten not only continued State building, but also the fruits of the Bonn Process.”12 Events have since borne out the accuracy of Annan’s cautionary statement.

Even though Afghanistan met the political markers established by the Bonn Process—drafting a constitution and electing the president and parliament—the situation in the country is far from healthy. The Taliban and other armed groups opposing the central government are resurgent. Parliament is dominated by many of the warlords, criminals, and discredited politicians responsible for much of Afghanistan’s woes since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Production and trade of narcotics provide more than half of Afghanistan’s total income and is a major source of violence, corruption and human rights abuse. Some of the same warlords in parliament or in key official positions in the government or security forces control the drug trade. Afghanistan remains one of the world’s least developed countries,13 and President Karzai’s government remains completely reliant on international financial, political, and military support.14

Afghans look to President Hamid Karzai—and beyond him, to his international supporters—for realistic responses to the country’s problems. The Afghanistan Compact was the international community’s answer, at least for the next five years.

The Compact identifies three major areas of activity, or “pillars”: security, governance and human rights, and economic development. The Compact also emphasized cross-cutting efforts to fight Afghanistan’s burgeoning production and trafficking of heroin. The Compact established benchmarks for performance in each area, explicitly tied to Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy (ANDS).15 The Compact also established a Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) to ensure overall strategic coordination of the implementation of the Compact, with membership including senior Afghan government officials appointed by the president and representatives of the international community. The JCMB is co-chaired by a senior Afghan government official appointed by the president and by the special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Afghanistan.16

The Compact’s preamble identifies security as “a fundamental prerequisite for achieving stability and development in Afghanistan.”17 Furthermore, the preamble highlights the inextricable link between security and development and committed the international community to support efforts to improve security in order to allow essential development to take place: “Security cannot be provided by military means alone. It requires good governance, justice and the rule of law, reinforced by reconstruction and development. . . . The Afghan Government and the international community will create a secure environment by strengthening Afghan institutions to meet the security needs of the country in a fiscally sustainable manner.”18

Despite identifying the important relationship between security and development, the security benchmarks used in the Compact referred solely to military and policing, and focused on the size of the different forces, not on their actual capacity to provide security.19 The ability to carry out the development that is earlier recognized as a “fundamental prerequisite” to security do not appear among these benchmarks.

Similarly, the Compact’s benchmarks for development do not refer at all to the fact that, as was obvious while the Compact was being drafted in late 2005, security conditions precluded development and reconstruction in many areas of the country. For instance, the ambitious benchmarks for primary, secondary, and higher education, set out that by 2010:

Net enrolment in primary school for girls and boys will be at least 60% and 75% respectively; . . . female teachers will be increased by 50%; enrolment of students to universities will be 100,000 with at least 35% female students; and the curriculum in Afghanistan's public universities will be revised to meet the development needs of the country and private sector growth.20

There was no recognition that in many parts of Afghanistan, schools have become a frontline in the military conflict between the Afghan government and the armed opposition, as documented in this report. These attacks signal a major breakdown in security and in the ability of the central government and its international supporters to provide for the basic needs of the Afghan people and meet the goals established in the Afghanistan Compact.

Afghanistan NGO Safety Office map of insecure areas, June 15, 2006. © 2006 ANSO

Insecurity in Afghanistan

At its simplest, insecurity in Afghanistan can be understood as violence and the threat of violence, which, depending on the locale, are often quite pervasive. Direct sources of insecurity—that is, the agents responsible for the violence—can be characterized in three overlapping categories:

  • groups opposed to the central government, including the Taliban, groups linked to the Taliban, those allied with warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and tribal or ethnic groups opposed to government presence at any given particular time;

  • forces of regional military figures (warlords, but also some security officials, militia commanders, and even some governors with independent armed forces) who maintain their local authority while ostensibly operating under the umbrella of the central government in Kabul; and,

  • criminal enterprises, particularly those involved in the production and trafficking of narcotics.

The source and type of insecurity varies across the country, and can be distinguished between the north and south and between urban and rural areas. Insecurity is also perceived differently by men and women and by the local population and foreign aid workers and contractors. Wherever it happens and whoever causes it, the impact of insecurity is largely the same: it keeps Afghans from enjoying their most basic rights as human beings, rights such as the right to life, the rights to freedom of association and assembly, the right to obtain health care, the right to work and to participate in public life, and the right to education.

As explained in Afghanistan’s 2004National Human Development Report, “[t]raditional security threats to the people of Afghanistan are both direct (violence, killings, etc.) and indirect. The latter emerge from a weakened state capacity and challenges to the legitimacy of institutions outside the capital, or from the withdrawal of international aid agencies from dangerous but needy zones.”21 In much of Afghanistan, the basic difficulties of living in a war-shattered, impoverished country gripped by draught and chronic food shortages aggravate the insecurity. As set out in more detail below, insecurity has limited the work of the government and of aid agencies in many areas of the south and southeast, exacerbating the insecurity Afghans in these areas experience.

Direct insecurity increased sharply in Afghanistan in 2005 and early 2006. The first half of 2006 (January to June) witnessed the greatest number of conflict-related deaths in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, with nearly 1,000 people, both civilians and combatants, killed in conflict-related incidents in the first six months of the year.22 This fatality rate is markedly higher than the previous rate of 1,600 people who died in conflict-related violence in 2005, according to the Afghan NGO Security Office (ANSO).23 For the international community in Afghanistan, this has included attacks on both foreign militaries (NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces) and the humanitarian aid workers whose efforts are essential for maintaining and improving the lives of the Afghan people. For aid workers, 2006 has been a particularly bloody year, with 24 killed as of June 20, 2006.24 This marks a serious escalation in the risk facing aid workers compared with the previous year, when thirty-one aid workers were killed—itself a significant increase compared to twenty-four aid workers killed in 2004 and twelve in 2003, according to ANSO.25 A May 2005 report by CARE and ANSO had already concluded that “though comparative statistics are not readily available, the NGO fatality rate in Afghanistan is believed to be higher than in almost any other conflict or post-conflict setting.”26

Similarly, Afghan and international military forces have suffered some of their heaviest casualties in 2006. As of June 15, 2006, 300 U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan, as well as eighty-two from other countries27; of this total, forty-seven U.S. troops died in 2006, along with seventeen from other countries.28 This trend continues from 2005, when ninety-one U.S. troops died in combat and from accidents in 2005, more than double the total for the previous year.29

Geographically, the sources of insecurity can be distinguished along a line dividing Afghanistan along a gentle gradient from the southwest to the northeast and passing directly through Kabul. North of this line, insecurity largely reflects the activity of narcotics networks and the growing authority and impunity of regional military commanders—warlords—who have returned and entrenched themselves by subverting the political process, most notably during parliamentary elections in September 2005.30 Many regional commanders were able to use intimidation and fraud to place themselves or their proxies in the national parliament or the local shuras, or provincial councils, thus adding political legitimacy to their rule of the gun and the financial independence many of them enjoy due to the drug trade.31 Alarmingly, groups allied with the Taliban and with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have also begun operating more openly in the north, even in areas quite close to Kabul.

For now, it is in the interest of regional power-holders in the north to minimize blatant use of force in confronting one another (or the central government). While this state of affairs has allowed the residents of northern and western Afghanistan some measure of respite, their sense of insecurity—their fear that any gains they make could be taken away arbitrarily—remains high.32 While factional fighting and overt violence has decreased in areas outside the south and southeast, insecurity remains high because of the near absolute impunity with which regional strongmen are able to act. The rule of law and the justice system remain very weak in Afghanistan, so it is not enough for incidents of actual violence to decrease for the sense of insecurity to lessen.33 The problem of impunity must first be addressed.

South of the southwest-northeast line described above, all three sources of direct insecurity torment ordinary Afghans. Warlords in southern and southeastern Afghanistan have assumed many senior government and security posts. After the Taliban were overthrown, many warlords took on the mantle of government authority by rebranding themselves as security forces without changing how they operate.34

Many observers, including the United Nations, the United States, and NATO, consider the narcotics trade as the gravest threat to the security of Afghanistan.35 The illicit drug trade accounts for an estimated U.S.$2.7 billion annually, surpassing the government’s official budget, and equaling nearly 40 percent of the country’s legal gross domestic product.36 As Barnett Rubin has put it, “the livelihoods of the people of this impoverished, devastated country are more dependent on illegal narcotics than any other country in the world.”37 However, Rubin points out that according to U.N. estimates nearly 80 percent of this income goes not to farmers, but to traffickers and heroin processors.38

Criminal gangs involved in the drug trade are a major source of violence and insecurity in Afghanistan, as their interests seem to transcend any particular ideology and focus on maintaining their ability to operate without any inhibitions or monitoring from the government or its international allies. Despite over U.S.$500 million dollars dedicated to the counter-narcotics campaign by the United States and the United Kingdom, drug production raged out of control in 2005, and there are strong indications that it will reach record highs in 2006.39 This vast criminal enterprise undermines the rule of law, challenges the authority of the central government, and provides easy and massive funding for military groups operating independently of the central government.40

Both the insurgents and the regional warlords assuming government authority have benefited from Afghanistan’s booming drug trade and the criminal networks it has spawned—raising fears that Afghanistan is turning into a narco-state.41 There is a very strong belief among Afghans and outside observers that senior government officials, including police chiefs, are involved in the drug trade.42 Even the Taliban, who had effectively stamped out poppy cultivation during their reign, are now cooperating with criminal networks and apparently using it to finance their military and political activity.

Another factor complicating the security situation is interference by Afghanistan’s neighbors. Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan—each have significant ethnic and economic interests in Afghanistan, while Iran and Pakistan have historically maintained unofficial zones of influence across their respective borders. Afghans throughout the country, and particularly in the south and southeast, in interviews with Human Rights Watch in December 2005, were adamant in blaming Pakistan for directly controlling, or at least sheltering, the forces responsible for destabilizing southern and southeastern Afghanistan.43

The proximity of Pakistan and its tribal areas (typically described as ungovernable or lawless) is one reason why insecurity in Afghanistan is markedly higher in the country’s southern and southeastern areas. It is in these areas where the Taliban and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have historically centered their operations. Both groups are predominantly Pashtun and derive their strength from Pashtun tribes straddling the Afghan-Pakistani border. U.S.-led coalition forces have concentrated their anti-Taliban activity and the search for Al Qaeda operatives in this area, at times engaging in heavy clashes with opposition forces.

Nearly a third of Afghanistan’s population lives in the country’s southern and southeastern provinces. The south is the heartland of Afghanistan’s Pashtun community and the cradle of the Taliban movement.44 By all accounts and benchmarks, security has deteriorated sharply in this area over the past two years.45 Opposition forces and well-armed criminal gangs operate extensively in this area, and the population receives little succor from the regional warlords nominally operating under government authority.

In past years, opposition attacks decreased markedly during the winter months, when cold weather hampered movement, particularly across the mountainous border to Pakistan. In 2006, the attacks have continued at an ever higher pace and intensity. As one tribal elder from Helmand province told Human Rights Watch:

The people have no rule of law, it’s the rule of the gun. The Taliban will kill you, or the government will kill you—one is worse than the other. There is absolute oppression and terror—there is no peace here. Might is right, the gun rules.

After the fall of the Taliban, we were happy because the United States saved us from terrorism, we thought it would help us with aid. We had a good memory because the U.S. had helped [us] in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the situation is the reverse of what we hoped. Our people’s hopes have turned to dust. This is because of poor management, the presence of the commanders who have been put in charge by the government.46

In 2004, a more robust and aggressive strategy by the coalition managed to push the opposition forces out of some of these areas, prompting the U.S. and Afghan governments to pronounce (again) that the Taliban were on the verge of defeat.47 But in 2005, Taliban and other opposition forces changed tactics, away from direct confrontations and instead began focusing on civilians and civilian institutions, such as teachers, low-level bureaucrats, schools, and aid workers, an approach similar to that used by anti-U.S. forces in Iraq.48 At least nine clerics were killed in Afghanistan in 2005.49

A particularly alarming development was the introduction of the previously uncommon tactic of suicide bombings. As one veteran Western observer of security conditions in Afghanistan explained, “Some of the new incidents are more serious, but overall incidents have not increased. But there is a new quality: terrorism against soft targets, suicide bombs in Kabul. There are more areas where the Taliban are active.”50 Most of these attacks have taken place in southern Afghanistan, with nearly twenty in Kandahar province alone.51 A self-described spokesman for the Taliban, Mohammed Hanif, boasted to the Christian Science Monitor in February 2006: “I confirm that there are 200 to 250 fidayeen [dedicated soldiers] who are prepared to carry out suicide attacks, and the number is increasing day by day.”52

It is unclear if this shift in tactics represents any real growth in the strength or popularity of the insurgency. But if the perpetrators of these attacks intended to intimidate the civilian population and disrupt the reconstruction and development process, they have by and large succeeded. Nearly all of the civilians we spoke with say they feel even more threatened than before, and they now express fear about moving in previously safe zones, such as city centers, which have become susceptible to attacks and bombings. A tribal elder from Khojaki district in northern Helmand province explained:

The Talibs target anyone working with the government. Every night there is the government of the Talibs. By day, the government can send maybe one or two motorcycles, that’s all. It was better before the parliamentary elections [in September 2005].53

Education in Afghanistan and its Importance for Development

Five years ago, Afghanistan was the world’s most distressing example of the failure to provide children with an education. The Taliban denied nearly all girls the right to attend school, and insecurity, poverty, and the abysmal quality of remaining schools left many boys without an education as well. Aside from refugees educated abroad and a miniscule number of girls able to attend clandestine home schools, the misogynistic rule of the Taliban left an entire generation of girls and young women illiterate.54

However, opposition to non-madrassa based, so-called modern, education and to girls’ participation predates the Taliban, when it first captured international attention. Education for girls was historically nearly non-existent in rural Afghanistan and almost exclusively confined to the capital. In 1919 King Amanullah seized the Afghan throne and began a rapid expansion of the country’s secular education system, directly threatening the clergy’s centuries-old monopoly on traditional madrassa education for boys. Amanullah’s experiment with a secular and modern education system, particularly as it addressed the education of girls, aroused protest from country’s religious establishment, who eventually supported the king’s overthrow. With Amanullah’s ouster, educational reforms were significantly slowed and in some cases reversed. Nevertheless, over the course of the twentieth century, and in particular during King Mohammed Zahir’s long reign between 1933 and 1973, Afghanistan’s education system steadily expanded, while continuing to be influenced by demands from the country’s conservative culture and religious authorities.55

After the Communist coup d’etat of 1978, the education system was dramatically revamped to reflect the governing ideology. The curriculum downgraded the importance of religion and emphasized Marxist-Leninism. The Communist’s educational policies set off a serious backlash, as the religious establishment, assisted by the militant Islamic groups, cast schools as centers for Communist Party activity.56 Schools became one of the first military targets for the mujahedin and the long war against the Soviet occupation.57

With the fall of the Communist government in 1992, the country was divided among warring factions, many of them religiously-inspired mujahedin groups ideologically opposed to modern education and to educating girls. Millions of Afghans fled the country, particularly the educated. Of the schools not destroyed by war, many were shuttered because of insecurity, the lack of teachers and teaching material, or simply poverty.

Education under the Taliban went from wretched to worse. The Taliban focused solely on religious studies for boys and denied nearly all girls the right to attend school.58 The Afghan government and its foreign supporters often cite the rehabilitation of the Afghan school system and the number of children in school as one of the chief successes of the international effort in Afghanistan.59 Since 2001, the participation of children and adults in education has improved dramatically and, as explained below, there is great demand. Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations on the planet—although exact numbers do not exist, an estimated 57 percent of the population is under the age of eighteen.60 Unexpectedly large numbers showed up when schools reopened in 2002, and enrollments have increased every year since, with the Ministry of Education reporting that 5.2 million students were enrolled in grades one through twelve in 2005.61 This includes, they told us, an estimated 1.82-1.95 million girls and women.62 An additional 55,500-57,000 people, including 4,000-5,000 girls and women, were enrolled in vocational, Islamic, and teacher education programs, and 1.24 million people were enrolled in non-formal education.63 These numbers represent a remarkable improvement from the Taliban era. Indeed,more Afghan children are in school today than at any other period in Afghanistan’s history.64

Despite these improvements, the situation is far from what it could or should have been, particularly for girls. The Ministry of Education estimates that 40 percent of children aged six to eighteen, including the majority of primary school-age girls, were still out of school in 2005. Older girls have particularly low rates of enrollment: at the secondary level, just 24 percent of students were girls in 2005;65 and the gross enrollment rate for girls in secondary education was only 5 percent in 2004, compared with 20 percent for boys.66 In six of Afghanistan’s then thirty-four provinces, girls made up 20 percent or less of the students officially enrolled in school in 2004-2005.67 Even at the primary level, girls are not catching up: the gap in primary enrollment between boys and girls has remained more or less constant despite overall increases in enrollment.68

Enrollment also has varied tremendously by province and between urban and rural areas.69 Many children in rural areas have no access to schools at all. Seventy-one percent of the population over age fifteen—including 86 percent of women—cannot read and write, one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.70

Moreover, not all enrolled children actually attend school or attend regularly. The Ministry of Education told Human Rights Watch that 10-13 percent of children drop out each year,71 but true numbers may be far higher: the 2003 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) found seven provinces in which more than 20 percent of girls enrolled in school had not attended at all in the last three days.72 “Enrollment data is from the beginning of year so it does not reflect kids who drop out during the year,” explained senior staff of an NGO that runs education programs in many parts of Afghanistan.73 Staff of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commissionoffered a specific example: “Traveling around, we’ve seen that the Ministry of Education’s numbers of kids in school are not accurate in areas of Paktika.”74

As low as they are, enrollment rates appear to have reached a plateau. The Ministry of Education’s director of planning told Human Rights Watch that the ministry expects the total number of students to remain unchanged from the 2005-2006 to the 2006-2007 school years and for new enrollments to slow in 2008 as refugee returns level off.75

Reconstruction of the country’s education infrastructure has nevertheless been unable to keep pace with demand. According to the Ministry of Education, there were 8,590 schools in Afghanistan in 2004-2005, of which 2,984 had a dedicated school building, 2,740 were “buildingless” (held in tents or in open air); and the remainder were held in mosques or rented rooms and buildings.76

Of these schools, far fewer admit girls than admit boys. Schools are officially designed as either a boys’ school or girls’ school, with 19 percent of schools designated as girls’ schools.77 Twenty-nine percent of Afghanistan’s 415 educational districts have no designated girls’ school at all.78 Some schools may admit students of the opposite sex, however: according to Ministry of Education figures, about one third of the country’s schools had students of both sexes enrolled in 2004-2005.79 In total, the ministry’s data indicate that 49 percent of Afghanistan’s schools admitted girls at some level, compared with 86 percent of schools that admitted boys.80

According to the head of the Ministry of Education’s planning department, ministry regulations allow co-education up to grade three and, in remote areas, grade nine.81 But practice varies widely. For example, a teacher in Balkh province told Human Rights Watch that he did not know whether strict separation of girls and boys “is law but this is certainly a policy. It was not the case in the past. It only started with the mujahedin regime [in 1992]. It is not applied in private schools.”82

Demand for separation also comes from local residents.83 Some communities refuse even to allow girls to attend a school that ever has boys in it; others allow girls to go in a separate shift or allow very young girls to attend classes with boys.

Official figures may over-represent the number of functioning girls’ schools. (As explained below, the number of functioning boys’ schools is also likely overstated because of closures following attacks.) Human Rights Watch received information about two instances of new girls’ schools not being used for their intended purpose. Woranga Safi, the then-director of secondary education department at the Ministry of Education, described an incident in Takhar province that she said was a typical example of provinces failing to give attention to female education:

A brand new school had been built according to a plan established by the Ministry of Education in Kabul in cooperation with the provincial administration. It was a school dedicated for girls’ education. It worked for a few days. It was then “hijacked” by local authorities and turned into a school for boys. The girls could not return to the school84

In Kapisa province, Human Rights Watch visited a newly-built girls’ school that police had taken over for their own use because girls from the local community did not attend it.85

Secondary education, for which girls and boy are separated, is far less available to girls than to boys, and Human Rights Watch heard reports of certain provinces having no secondary schools for girls at all. However, neither the Ministry of Education nor UNICEF were able to provide us with a listing of provinces without girls’ secondary schools. Human Rights Watch visited a girls’ secondary school in Paktia, one of the provinces that does. According to the school’s principal, it was the only school in the province offering education to girls grade eight or higher, and fifty-four girls were enrolled in these grades, including sixteen in class ten. No girls were enrolled in grades eleven or twelve in 2005-2006.86

The Structure of Afghanistan’s School System

Under Afghanistan’s Constitution, education is compulsory and free from grades one through nine and free up to the undergraduate level of university.87 Children begin grade one at age six or seven. Primary education consists of grades one through six, junior (or middle) secondary education grades seven through nine, and upper secondary education grades ten through twelve. Formal education options also include vocational education and teacher education (grades ten through fourteen) and Islamic education (grades seven through fourteen).

In “cold” areas, the school year begins after the Persian New Year in March; in “hot” areas, the school year begins in September. The school year usually lasts nine months, divided into two semesters, with a two-and-a-half month break at the end of the academic year. The school day is short, typically lasting from three to three-and-a-half hours, which allows teachers to work at other jobs or schools to operate multiple shifts.

In addition to formal schools run by the Ministry of Education, other forms of education are available in certain areas. This includes literacy programs, community-based schools, and accelerated learning programs which typically target, but are not limited to, girls who cannot go to a regular school. Accelerated learning programs educate children who have missed some years of school but seek to rejoin the formal education system by studying the formal curriculum at an accelerated pace. These programs may be administered by NGOs or the government, with the largest being the USAID-funded Afghanistan Funded Primary Education Program(APEP), implemented primarily through Afghan NGOs.

International donors have long played a role in education in Afghanistan, and, since the fall of the Taliban, education has been almost completely dependent on international support, provided directly to the government or to private contractors and NGOs. The largest international donors for education in Afghanistan are the United States (via USAID) and the World Bank. Other donors include Denmark, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, UNESCO, and UNICEF. Donor money has gone to school construction and rehabilitation, textbook printing and distribution, teacher training, and school equipment such as tents, blackboards, and carpets. According to the Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief (ACBAR), since 2002, NGOs have assisted in repairing or constructing around 3,000 school buildings and in training 27,500 teachers.88 In light of the very high numbers of children outside the education system, the focus of donors and the Ministry of Education has been on primary education largely to the exclusion of secondary.

Education is universally recognized as critical for children’s intellectual and social development, providing them with critical skills for leading productive lives as citizens and workers. Education is also central to the realization of other human rights.89 For girls, moreover, access to education correlates strongly with later marriage and childbirth,90 which in turn correlate strongly with improved health, including significantly reduced maternal mortality.

Education not only benefits the children themselves, it also benefits the country’s development. It is now well-established that increasing girls’ and women’s access to education improves maternal and child health, improves their own children’s access to education, and promotes economic growth.91 For example, research has shown that an additional year of school for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 to 10 percent, and that reducing the gender gap in education increases per capita income growth.92 Indeed, studies have found greater returns through higher wages on school investments for girls than for boys, particularly for secondary education.93

The low numbers of girls receiving secondary education and higher education is especially troubling and carries profound consequences for the future participation of women in the social, economic, and political life of the country. Without higher levels of education, women’s opportunities to secure skilled employment, gain leadership roles in local and national government, or to impart education as teachers themselves, are severely restricted. As one woman leader in Kandahar pointed out: “This young generation can be trained well but what about older girls? They will remain illiterate. An illiterate woman cannot be a teacher. How can she train the next generation?”94 Some of the most important development benefits of girls’ education for a country also take place at the secondary school level.95

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Loya Jirga Off to Shaky Start,” June 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Guarantee Loya Jirga Delegates’ Security,” June 19, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Analysis of New Cabinet: Warlords Emerge from Loya Jirga More Powerful than Ever,” June 20, 2002.

[10] Ahmad Rashid, “Afghanistan: On the Brink,” New York Review of Books, June 22, 2006. The United States changed its policy of relying exclusively on warlords to provide regional security and assistance against the Taliban in the summer of 2004, when it became apparent that this strategy was undermining the authority of the central government and causing major resentment among ordinary Afghans. Pursuant to this shift, some of the warlords with the greatest regional or ethnic appeal were effectively sidelined, at least temporarily (for instance, Ismail Khan, General Dostum, Marshall Fahim, and Gul Agha Shirzai). However, hundreds of lower level warlords continue to impose their will on the populace. Michael Bhatia, Kevin Lanigan, and Philip Wilkinson, Minimal Investments, Minimal Results: The Failure of Security Policy in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, June 2004.

[11] “Afghanistan on the Eve of Parliamentary and Provincial Elections,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, September 15, 2005,; and “Campaigning Against Fear: Women’s Participation in Afghanistan’s 2005 Elections,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, August 17, 2005, For coverage of the election period and its aftermath, read Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan Election Diary, available at

[12] U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The text of his remarks can be found at “In statement to London conference, Secretary-General says providing assistance to Afghanistan is in interest of ‘entire international community,’” (retrieved February 12, 2006).

[13] UNDP, Human Development Report 2005 (New York: UNDP, 2005), (retrieved April 4, 2006).

[14] On President Karzai’s current political difficulties, see Kim Barker, “An Afghan Pressure Cooker,” Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2006. For general overviews of the situation in Afghanistan, see Barnett Rubin, Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy, Council on Foreign Relations, March 2006; and Kenneth Katzman, Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, Congressional Research Service, updated May 4, 2006.

[15] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Afghan National Development Strategy: An Interim Strategy for Security, Governance, Economic Growth & Poverty Reduction, 1384 (2005-2006), As Barnett Rubin has pointed out, the Compact established accountability for the Afghan government, but not for donors, instead referring vaguely to “the international community.” Rubin, “Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition…, p. 1.

[16] For information about the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, see:

[17] “The Afghanistan Compact,” The London Conference on Afghanistan, January 31-February 1, 2006, “Security,” p. 3.

[18] Ibid. The reference to strengthening Afghan security institutions in a “fiscally responsible manner” is tacit recognition of the absolute failure of the plan to create a 70,000-strong Afghan army. This plan rejected advice from security and development experts who questioned why Afghanistan needed to focus on creating an army when most of its threats were internal and required better police work. Ultimately, reality scuttled the rhetoric: it proved impossible to train and retain so many troops so quickly, and the cost of maintaining such an army was prohibitive and unbearable by Afghanistan’s shattered economy. See Report of the Panel of United Nations Peace Operations, August 21, 2000 United Nations, Report on the Panel of United Nations Peace Operations, U.N. Doc. A/55/305.S/2000/809 (New York: United Nations Publications, 2000). For an argument in favor of the 70,000-strong Afghan army, see Vance Serchuk, “Don’t Undercut the Afghan Army,” Washington Post, June 2, 2006.

[19] “The Afghanistan Compact,” The London Conference on Afghanistan, annex 1, p. 10.

[20] Ibid.

[21] UNDP, Afghanistan, National Human Development Report 2004, Security with a Human Face: Challenges and Responsibilities, 2004, sec. 3.2.

[22] “Coalition: More than 45 Insurgents Killed in Afghanistan,” Associated Press, June 17, 2006.

[23] “Afghanistan: Year in Review 2005—Fragile progress, insecurity remains,” IRIN, January 11, 2006.

[24] E-mail from ANSO to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2006.

[25] Ibid. 2005 casualty figures for aid workers were cited by Scott Baldauf, “Mounting concern over Afghanistan; Cartoon protests are part of an impatience with the problems of drugs, jobs, corruption,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2006 (citing ANSO).

[26] “NGO Insecurity in Afghanistan,” ANSO and CARE, May 2005, available at

[27] “Enduring Freedom Casualties,”, available at (retrieved June 15, 2006).

[28] Annual breakdown of the number of casualties in Afghanistan are availabe at the website

[29] Ibid.

[30] See “Campaigning Against Fear: Women’s Participation in Afghanistan’s 2005 Elections,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Christian Willach, operations coordinator, ANSO, Kabul, December 4, 2005.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview, Ahmad Nader Nadery, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, commissioner for rule of law and justice sector, Kabul, December 20, 2005.

[34] Wahidullah Amani, “Growing Sense of Insecurity,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, December 23, 2005.

[35] See, for instance, Richard Holbrooke, “Afghanistan: The Long Road Ahead,” The Washington Post, April 2, 2006. A clear indication of the alarms raised by Afghanistan’s burgeoning drug production and trade is the prominence with which the topic is addressed in the Afghanistan Compact, where it is addressed as the only issue cutting across all other topics, such as security, rule of law, and economic development.

[36] U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005, November 4, 2005.

[37] Rubin, Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition … , p.31.

[38] Ibid.

[39] U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005. Although the area of land under poppy cultivation dropped by 20 percent in 2005, actual production dropped only four percent, indicating a bigger harvest due to more rain and better farming methods. Early indications are that poppy cultivation and drug production are already even higher in 2006.

[40] Katzman, Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, p.14.

[41] “Afghanistan: Year in Review 2005—Fragile progress, insecurity remains,” IRIN.

[42] Scott Baldauf, “Inside the Afghan drug trade,” The Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 2006. See also Ahmed Rashid, “Afghanistan: Taleban’s Second Coming,” BBCNews, June 2, 2006, (retrieved June 16, 2006).

[43] Many U.S. analysts, as well as Afghans, blamed Pakistan for nurturing, if not directly controlling, the growing insurgency in the south. See, for instance, Seth Jones, “The Danger Next Door,” The New York Times, September 23, 2005. Afghan’s love-hate relationship with Pakistan was at a particularly low point in the winter of 2005-2006, as anti-Pakistan protests erupted across the country in response to the rash of suicide bombings. For instance, the deadliest of these attacks, which killed twenty-two spectators at a wrestling match on the border town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province, sparked anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban riots across Afghanistan. “Protestors in Ghazni blame Pakistan for supporting terrorists,” Pajhwok Afghan News, January 21, 2006; “Afghan demonstrators call for punishment of deadly bombers,” Xinhua News Agency, January 18, 2005.

[44] See Ahmed Rashid, The Taliban (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Qadir Noorzai, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Kandahar director, Kandahar, December 8, 2005. Noorzai explained that there had been a decrease in the number of complaints received from his office’s area of operations—not because of improvements in security, but rather because the situation had grown so bad that it impeded proper reporting and investigation. “We’ve sent our delegations there in unmarked cars because of insecurity. Earlier we were getting lots of complaints, now less, not because there are less problems, but because people don’t complain because we can’t do anything about it, we’re not that strong and the government isn’t that strong,” he told us.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Dr. Akhundzada, tribal elder from Kojaki district, northern Helmand province, Kandahar, December 7, 2005.

[47] President Bush and President Karzai appeared at a joint press conference in June 2004 at the White House, during which President Bush declared: “Three years ago, the Taliban had granted Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al Qaeda organization a safe refuge. Today, the Taliban has been deposed, al Qaeda is in hiding, and coalition forces continue to hunt down the remnants and holdouts. Coalition forces, including many brave Afghans, have brought America, Afghanistan and the free world its first victory in the war on terror,” The White House, “President Bush Meets with President Karzai of Afghanistan,” June 15, 2004, available at 2004/06/20040615-4.html, retrieved on June 17, 2006. Similar sentiments came from General James Jones, NATO’s top military official at the time, who said during an interview in Kabul in August 2004, "In terms of radical Islamic fundamentalism, Al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban reasserting themselves in this country -- it's over.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Afghanistan: NATO's Top General Says Taliban Defeated,” August 13, 2004, available at, retrieved on June 17, 2006.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Christian Willach, operations coordinator, ANSO, Kabul, December 4, 2005. It is unclear whether this shift in tactics reflected direct interchange between Iraqi and Afghan insurgent groups, or simply came about as Afghans emulated the Iraqi insurgents’ effective methods of disrupting government control and increasing chaos. U.S. and Afghan authorities have claimed that they have evidence of direct links between the two groups, while the Afghan groups claim they are relying on their own resources.

[49] The nine clerics were: Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, Maulavi Mohammed Musbah, Maulavi Saleh Mohammed, Malik Agha, Mullah Abdullah Malang, Mullah Amir Mohammed Akhund, Maulavi Mohammed Khan, Maulavi Mohammad Gul, Maulavi Noor Ahmad. See “Afghanistan on the Eve of Parliamentary and Provincial Elections,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper; “Karzai condemns clerics’ killing,” Pajhwok Afghan News, October 18, 2005.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with long-time resident Western expert, Kabul, December 4, 2005.

[51] Suicide bombings have not been not limited to the south, but have also occurred in Kabul as well as in the north, where the city of Mazar-e Sharif witnessed two suicide bombings in the latter half of 2005 and German ISAF troops were attacked in Kunduz in 2006. “Escalating Violence Puts German Peacekeepers on Edge,” Deutsche Welle, May 31, 2006,,2144,2036120,00.html (retrieved June 17, 2006). For an incomplete list of suicide bombings in Afghanistan in 2005, see “Chronology of Major Suicide Attacks,” Associated Press, January 20, 2006; Abdul Waheed Wafa and Carlotta Gall, “3 Afghan Demonstrators Die in Clash With NATO Troops,” The New York Times, February 8, 2006.

[52] Scott Baldauf, “Taliban Turn to Suicide Attacks,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 3, 2006.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Dr. Akhundzada, tribal elder from Kojaki district, northern Helmand province, Kandahar, December 7, 2005.

[54] Human Rights Watch, Humanity Denied: Systematic Violations of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan, vol. 13, no. 5, October 2001.

[55] Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 69.

[56] S. B. Ekanayake, Education in the Doldrums: Afghan Tragedy, (Peshawar: UNESCO, 2000), p. 36.

[57] Ibid.

[58] The gross enrollment ratio in primary school for 2000/2001 was 29 percent for males and less than 1 percent for females (down from 4 percent the previous year). UNESCO, “Gross and New Enrollment Ratios, Primary,”, retrieved February 9, 2006.

[59] See, for example, most recently comments made by Afghan and other government officials at the opening of the London Conference unveiling the Afghanistan Compact on January 31, 2006. President Karzai said: “Where four years ago, education was in a state of total collapse, today more than six million girls and boys are attending schools.” Prime Minister Tony Blair of the U.K. said: “There are millions of children back at school, many of them girls denied the chance to be educated during the period of the Taliban’s rule.” Both speeches are available at the website of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, available at TextOnly?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1136906260508&to=true, retrieved on June 17, 2006. As early as June 2004, at a meeting in the White House, President Bush told President Karzai: Afghanistan and America are working together to print millions of new textbooks and to build modern schools in every Afghan province. Girls, as well as boys, are going to school, and they are studying under a new curriculum that promotes religious and ethnic tolerance.” President Karzai responded by saying: “We are sending today five million children to school. Almost half of those children are girls.” The White House, “President Bush Meets with President Karzai of Afghanistan,” June 15, 2004, available at 2004/06/20040615-4.html, retrieved on June 17, 2006.

[60] Data available in Afghanistan’s Second Report on the Millenium Development Goals, available at

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director, Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] For information on student enrollment in Afghanistan since 1970, see UNESCO data available at

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director of Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006. Compare Ministry of Education, Education Management Information System (draft), 2004-2005 (in 2004-2005, girls made up 20 percent of secondary students).

[66] World Bank, “GenderStats: Database of Gender Statistics.”

[67] Ministry of Education, Education Management Information System (draft), 2004-2005. These provinces were Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Helmand, Paktika, Zabul. It should be noted that this figure is not the percentage of school-age girls enrolled in the area.

[68] There were 1.5 million girls and 3 million boys enrolled in primary school in 2004-2005. Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director, Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006. See also Millennium Development Goals Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Country Report 2005: Vision 2020, pp. 31, 42; and C. Naumann, Compilation of Some Basic School Statistics, WFP CO AFG, Citing UNICEF RALS (Rapid Assessment of Learning Spaces), 2003/4 data, p. 4 (noting the 1:2 ratio of girls to boys in primary school).

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director, Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006; and UNICEF, “On eve of new Afghan school year, UNICEF warns of continued threat facing women and children,” March 21, 2006.

[70] Central Statistics Office, Afghan Transitional Authority; UNICEF, “Afghanistan—Progress of Provinces, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2003, May 2004. In rural areas, 91.9 percent of women and 63.9 percent of men are illiterate, while in many villages 95 to 100 percent of women cannot read and write. Ibid. By comparison, Afghanistan falls far below the average literacy rate of low-income countries (U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Afghanistan Reconstruction: Despite Some Progress, Deteriorating Security and Other Obstacles Continue to Threaten Achievement of U.S. Goals,” Report to Congressional Committees, July 2005, p. 7), below the average of other countries in the region, and below the average of the least developed countries (UNDP, Human Development Report 2005, p. 261.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director, Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006.

[72] These provinces were: Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Lagman, Nimroz, Samangan, and Sar-e Pol. Notably—perhaps incredibly—Badghis, Kandahar rural, and Zabul reported that 100 percent of girls enrolled in school had attended all three of the last three days. Central Statistics Office, UNICEF, “Days Attended in Last 3 School-days (among enrolled),” Afghanistan—Progress of Provinces, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2003.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff, Kabul, December 4, 2005.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission incident investigator, Gardez, December 6, 2005.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director, Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006.

[76] Ministry of Education, Education Management Information System (draft), 2004-2005;Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammeed Azim Karbalai, Director, Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, March 11, 2006. Director Karbalai told Human Rights Watch that some 2,000 new schools were supposed to be built in 2006-2007. The head of Herat’s education department, Mohammadin Fahim, told journalists that 40 percent of students in Herat would study in tents in 2006. “Lack of Teachers, Classrooms Hamper Education in West Afghanistan,” Seda-ye Jawan Radio, Herat, BBC Monitoring South Asia, March 14, 2006, 1030 GMT.

[77] Ministry of Education, Education Management Information System (draft), 2004-2005.

[78] Ibid. A province is divided into districts; educational districts often, but not always, correspond with administrative districts.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Draft data for 2004-2005 from the Ministry of Education lists 1,354 schools as “female” and 4,361 as “male.” An additional 262 are female schools with male students, and 2,560 are male schools with female students. Only 10 percent of educational district had no girls officially enrolled in school in 2004-2005. Ibid.

[81] Human Rights Watch interviews with Mohammed Azim Karbalai, Director of Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Kabul, December 15, 2005, and March 11, 2006.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with teacher, Mazar-e Sharif, May 19, 2005.

[83] According to the director of Qala-e Wazir school in Bagrami district, Kabul province: “People in the community demand separate schools. It is important to respect the tradition.” Human Rights Watch interview, Bagrami district, Kabul, May 10, 2005.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with Woranga Safi, Director of Secondary Education, Ministry of Education, Kabul, May 12, 2005.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Halim Khan, Tagab District Police Chief, Tagab District, Kapisa, May 7, 2006.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with high school principal, Gardez, December 6, 2005.

[87] Information in this section draws from Human Rights Watch’s interviews with staff of the Ministry of Education and the following sources: Jeaniene Spink, Afghanistan Research & Evaluation Unit (AREU), “Afghanistan Teacher Education Project (TEP) Situational Analysis: Teacher Education and Professional Development in Afghanistan,” August 2004; Anne Evans, Nick Manning, Yasin Osmani, Anne Tulley, and Andrew Wilder, “A Guide to Government in Afghanistan,” AREU and the World Bank, 2004,

[88] Holger Munsch, “Education,” Afghanistan: Findings on Education, Environment, Gender, Health, Livelihood and Water and Sanitation: From Multidonor Evaluation of Emergency and Reconstruction Assistance from Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, Arne Strand and Gunnar Olesen, eds., CMI Report, 2005, p. 9, citing ACBAR “Statement for the Afghanistan Development Forum,” Kabul, April 4-6, 2005.

[89] See, for example, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13: The Right to Education, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10, December 8, 1999, para. 1.

[90] See, for example, Barbara Hertz and Gene B. Sterling, “What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World,”Council on Foreign Relations, 2004.

[91] Ibid.

[92] For information on girls’ enrollment and infant mortality, see T. Paul Schultz, “Returns to Women’s Schooling,” Women’s Education in Developing Countries: Barriers, Benefits, and Policy, Elizabeth King and M. Anne Hill, eds. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); and M. Anne Hill and Elizabeth King, “Women’s Education and Economic Well-Being,” Feminist Economics 1 (2), 2005, pp. 21–46. For information on girls’ education and economic growth, see David Dollar and Roberta Gatti, “Gender Inequality, Income, and Growth: Are Good Times Good for Women?” World Bank Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, working paper series no. 1, 1999, p. 12; and Stephan Klasen, “Does Gender Inequality Reduce Growth and Development? Evidence from Cross-Country Regressions,” Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, working paper series no. 7, World Bank, 1999.

[93] See, for example, George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2881, 2002; T. Paul Schultz, “Why Governments Should Invest More to Educate Girls,” World Development, 30 (2), 2002, pp. 207–25; and Shultz, “Returns to Women’s Schooling.”

[94] Human Rights Watch interview,Kandahar city, December 8, 2005.

[95] See, for example, Economic and Social Council, Annual report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Katarina Tomaševski, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/29, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2002/60, Commission on Human Rights, 58th sess., January 7, 2002 (“Available evidence indicates that the key to reducing poverty is secondary rather than primary education”); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and UNESCO, Financing Education—Investments and Returns: Analysis of the World Education Indicators, 2002 (benefits of secondary education to the individual in the labor force and for a country’s economic growth).

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