In the Afghan provinces: a piece of modernity thanks to the Taliban

Gut 60 small faces, framed by white headscarves, look in the direction of the panel. Division arithmetic is on the timetable. The teacher asks what happens when you divide 20 into three parts. Fingers stretch behind. The restlessness increases, the urge to call out the result runs through the students’ limbs. But the further you look ahead, the more perplexed your expressions become. Girls between the ages of six and 13 sit together in the small room, crowded together on the floor, almost every square centimeter is occupied. The smallest ones in front, bigger and bigger towards the back, those girls who finally want to catch up on what they have been denied for years.

It’s the last hour of this morning in Alisha, a small village of adobe buildings somewhere in the mountains of Wardak Province, a few hours’ drive west of Kabul. The girls don’t have a real school building here, but a room with white walls and an old blackboard, plastic mats on the floor – and above all a teacher. Only a few months ago classes for girls started in Alischa for the first time.

It’s a bit paradoxical, but since the Islamist Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the situation for many girls and women in the country has improved. While in the cities schoolgirls were banned from the higher classes and everything female was gradually pushed out of everyday life, remote regions were able to enjoy girls’ education and health care for the first time. Because around 60 percent of the country used to be “white areas” for international aid organizations, in which no projects were possible for security reasons. And the state had long since withdrawn from those areas where the Taliban had gained the upper hand.

The village of Alisha in Afghanistan's Wardak province in July


The village of Alisha in Afghanistan’s Wardak province in July
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Image: Daniel Pilar

The bumpy dirt track winds its way up to Alischa over endless serpentines, through barren, inhospitable rocky plains, until at some point the green of the orchards appears. Afghanistan consists largely of arid, ocher-colored mountain landscapes. Only where water comes out of the ground does it suddenly turn green. Rich apricots, plums and grapes grow behind crooked natural stone walls in Alischa and provide cool shade in the gardens. No power pole and no telephone connection reaches the villages up here. Life is practically untouched by modernity.

The girls want more space

“We used to only drive down into the valley in emergencies,” says Muhammad Rasul, who estimates his age at 45 and invites them into his house. “We up here are all Taliban, they said downstairs and beat us and harassed us.” Wardak province, which begins west of the city limits of Kabul, was heavily contested for many years. Down on the plain, through which one of the main highways runs southwest from the capital to Kandahar, government troops sat in heavily armored bases, awaiting the next attack. The further into the mountains we went, the clearer the dominance of the Islamists became.

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