March 6, 2010 / 9:33 AM / 10 years ago

Karzai calls on Taliban to stop attacking schools

Children study at an open area in Sang Surakh, about 170 km (105 miles) north of Kabul March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded with insurgents on Saturday to stop attacking schools so that the five million Afghan children with no access to education can reach their potential.

Taliban insurgents who are locked in a battle against the Afghan government and its foreign backers frequently attack schools in remote areas of Afghanistan because, they say, pupils are taught un-Islamic subjects.

At a ceremony in Kabul, Karzai rang a gong to mark the start of Afghanistan’s school year.

“Five million school-aged children of our country, can’t go to school,” Karzai said. “Some of them due to Taliban attacks and their schools’ being shut down, and others due to lack of facilities.” “If they (Taliban) shut down schools ... I can say that they are committing an atrocity against Afghanistan and Islam,” Karzai said.

Afghanistan’s education minister, Farooq Wardak, said around 11 million Afghans are illiterate, more than one third of the country’s population.

Violence in Afghanistan is at record levels since Taliban insurgents, driven from power in 2001, made a comeback in 2006. Insurgent attacks on the government and foreign forces across the country as well have increased markedly in the past year.

While in power, the Taliban banned education for girls and restricted it to a religious curriculum for boys.

Wardak said only about 1 million Afghans were in school under the Taliban, and now there are 7 million.

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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