Arnold Ahlert//On Monday, as many as 126 teachers, schoolgirls and kindergartners were poisoned at the Habibul Mustafa School in Afghanistan’s western Herat province. Herat provincial hospital spokesman Muhammad Rafiq Sherzai revealed some of the victims were vomiting and some were unconscious when they were admitted, but that they were all in stable condition. “A health team has been sent to the area for investigations,” he added. Herat police spokesman Abdul Raouf Ahmadi said police have initiated an investigation, but no arrests have been made at this point. And while no group has claimed responsibility for the incident, the Taliban have a despicable track record of targeting school girls.
A 2001 State Department report titled “The Taliban’s War Against Women” reveals that the “assault on the status of women” began immediately after the group’s takeover of Kabul in 1996, following 20 years of civil war. The women’s university was closed, nearly every woman was forced to quit her job, access to medical care was restricted, and a restrictive dress code was brutally enforced. As many as 50,000 women who had worked as teachers, doctors, nurses, and clerical workers, because they had lost male relatives and husbands during the long civil war, were reduced to begging on the streets (or worse) to support their families. The Taliban also precipitated a campaign of violence against women that included rape, abduction, and forced marriage.
Beginning in 1998, girls over the age of 8 were prohibited from attending school.
The liberation of Afghanistan in 2001 changed that loathsome equation, but the Taliban continued to attack defenseless schoolgirls whenever the opportunity presented itself, especially in the neighboring country of Pakistan where many of them fled following their rout by US troops. A 2014 report by the Global Committee to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) reveals that Pakistan endured more than 838 school attacks from 2009 through 2012 that left hundreds of schools destroyed. “When the Pakistani Taliban did gain control of the Swat Valley, they first banned girls’ education and banned women from teaching, through an edict in December 2008, and later amended their edict to permit the education of girls, but only up to grade 4,” the report stated.
A June 2014 report by the International Crisis Group also illuminated the twisted rationale behind such efforts, explaining that the Taliban target educational institutions in general, and girls’ schools in particular, because they view education as the “promotion of Western decadence and un-Islamic teachings.” “Militant jihadi groups have destroyed buildings, closed girls’ schools and terrorised parents into keeping daughters at home,” the report added. “More than nine million children do not receive primary or secondary education, and literacy rates are stagnant.”
This overt viciousness remained largely under the media radar until Taliban gunmen attempted to assassinate education activist Malala Yousafzai, then 14, as she rode the bus to her Pakistani school in 2012. Yousafzai was hit in the head by a bullet that traveled down her neck. She was brought to a military hospital in Peshawar where a portion of her skull was removed to treat brain swelling before she was transferred to Birmingham, England. Following a painful recovery that included multiple surgeries, she continued to promote the right to an education, ultimately winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize following her second nomination for that honor.
Taliban savages made sure other children weren’t as lucky. On December 16, 2014, six Taliban terrorists massacred 132 children and nine staff members and wounded another 122, shooting their way through the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. The eight hour atrocity included burning a teacher to death in front of her students, and Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed credit for it. Pakistan security expert Ahmed Rashid cited two reasons for the attack, including revenge for the Pakistani Army taking the fight to terrorists in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan, close to the Afghan border—and the accolades received by Yousafzai, who was “heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror in Peshawar.”
The poisoning in Herat follows a number of similar incidents that occurred beginning in April 2012 when 150 girls were poisoned by contaminated water, leaving some in critical condition at a high school in Afghanistan’s Takhar Province. A year later at a school in Taluqan, the capital of Takhar Province, 74 girls were hospitalized when they became ill after complaining about a gas smell. In May another 150 were hospitalized in Kabul after voicing similar complaints about the smell of gas and bad drinking water at the Sultan Razia school.
Two other incidents occurred in June. In Maimana, the capital of Faryab province, 77 girls were hospitalized due to suspected gas poisoning, followed by a similar incident the on same day in the town of Behsud, where 20 girls attending a local secondary school fell ill for unknown reasons.
In an April 2013 column for the New York Times, Kabul-based writer Matthieu Aikins insisted no one had been poisoned, citing “never-released reports showing that the United Nations, the World Health Organization and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force had investigated the incidents for years and had never found, despite extensive laboratory tests, any evidence of toxins or poisoning.” Rather the girls were victims of “mass hysteria.”
Perhaps. On the other hand, writer Andrea Ayres-Deets rightly takes Aikins to task, citing a UN report issued June 5, 2015. That report not only reveals the 185 documented attacks on schools in 2011 Ayres-Deets uses to mockingly pose the question, “Were all of those fabricated by scared school children too?” but a 48 percent increase in “the killing and maiming of children in Afghanistan” to 2,502 in 2014. Moreover, there were 163 verified incidents of school attacks that same year, including ”28 incidents of placement of improvised explosive devices inside school premises.”
A total of 94 of those school attacks were attributed to the Taliban and other “armed groups.”
Unsurprisingly, very little of these ongoing attempts to mortgage the future of women in Afghanistan has received much attention from the American feminist movement or an Obama administration determined to abandon these girls to the Taliban and their equally savage Haqqani network allies, courtesy of the president’s vow to “end” the war before his term in office expires. “Afghanistan is still a dangerous place,” Obama said. “The way it’s going to become less dangerous is by Afghan security forces being capable of keeping law and order and security in the country, and that is not going to happen if foreign forces are continually relied upon.”
If that has a familiar ring, perhaps it’s because Obama said virtually the same thing about Iraq in 2011. “Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over” he stated. “Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
One suspects the thousands of Yazidi women who have been systematically raped, tortured and sold into slavery by ISIS, who filled the vacuum left by Obama’s fecklessness, would heartily disagree. That would be the same President Obama who steadfastly refuses to acknowledge ISIS’s Muslim roots, even as ISIS leaders have enshrined their “theology of rape,” which has “become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden,” as the New York Times puts it.
Beginning in July, the Afghan government began negotiating with the Taliban, despite the reality that in 2015, 4,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed, nearly 8,000 have been wounded, and the Taliban is making territorial gains. It follows the complete failure of negotiations by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, when the Taliban completely rejected her demands for disarmament, acceptance of the Afghan constitution, and cutting ties with Al Qaeda.
Comedian Jay Leno’s wife, Mavis, who chairs a committee of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), a group dedicated to women’s equality, emphasized the grim reality that faces an Afghan government forced to negotiate with the Taliban before a U.S. withdrawal reduces what little leverage it has to zero. “I don’t believe (the Taliban) would consider themselves contractually, morally or in any other fashion bound by any agreements they made with us, or any of our allies,” she stated. “That is not their history and I don’t believe for one minute they are going to change because it’s their belief system.”
That assertion is well-founded. That it utterly eludes the Obama administration and its feminist allies—either by accident or design—is shameful.