Afghanistan's education minister dismissed Monday a Taliban plan to set up its own schools in the volatile south as "political propaganda" and claimed the militia would use them as a front for terrorist training.
"We won't allow these schools," Mohammad Hanif Atmar told a news conference. "Their aim is to shift terror centers from Pakistan to Afghanistan. We won't allow it and the people will never accept these schools."
Atmar's comments follow a weekend announcement by Abdul Hai Muthmahien, the purported chief Taliban spokesman, that the group will begin providing Islamic education to students in March in at least six southern provinces, funded by US$1 million allotted by the Taliban's ruling council. He said education would be available to boys first and later to girls.
Afghan officials claim that Taliban militants are often radicalized and trained at religious schools in neighboring Pakistan.
The fundamentalist militia, that barred girls from class during its six-year rule, has waged a violent campaign against Afghan state schools, aimed at undermining the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai that took power after the Taliban's ouster from power in late 2001.
Atmar described the Taliban as "enemies" of education, saying its militants had burned 183 schools in the past year, caused the closure of 396 others, forcing 200,000 students out of class. He also said 61 students and teachers had been killed, reports AP.
"If they want to build schools, why are they burning our (government) schools?" he said.
Atmar dismissed the Taliban plan to open its own as "political propaganda," saying they did not control the provinces where it plans to set them up.
He said the government would have the "legitimate right" to attack Taliban schools that became centers of terrorism.
The Taliban's attacks on state schools in the past few years have chipped away at one of the main successes of Afghanistan's democratic revival: a huge foreign-funded development drive that has seen a fivefold increase in the number of children attending school.