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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Afghanistan's hidden war
The scale of the fighting in southern Afghanistan has dramatically increased over the past few months.

But there is another war going on at a much more local level, targeting government infrastructure across the country. Local politicians, police chiefs and judges are being assassinated, and schools are being closed due to intimidation or being burned to the ground, as Alastair Leithead reports.

The notes were left at night, pinned to trees outside the school - they were addressed to the head teacher.

British troops in Sangin, Helmand province
Violence in Afghanistan has soared this year

"We know who you are," they said.

"We know you are involved in girls' education. Unless you stop we will kill your daughters and we will kill your family."

The principal had received many of these warnings, but it didn't stop him keeping the school open.

He pinned up his reply on the same trees: "Do whatever you have to do and we will do what we have to do," it read.

A few days later the school was hit by three rockets, and explosives were planted around the outside of the building.

This happened a few weeks ago - in Wardak, a province neighbouring Kabul.

And in the south of the country the situation is even worse.

'Soft targets'

In Helmand province in the last eight months almost half the schools have either been burned down, or the teachers have been intimidated into closing.

They pay people to burn schools and organise roadside bombs
Rahman Ibrahim,
Former Paktia police chief

They are echoes of a Taleban government which was removed from power almost five years ago, but today's motives are as much about creating instability as they are about religious extremism.

Schools are soft targets, the night letters instil fear into the people, and the intention is to gradually erode the power of the democratically-elected government.

Beyond the heavy fighting in Helmand, the roadside and suicide car bombs in Kandahar and across Afghanistan which are killing coalition soldiers, Taleban militia and civilians, is a campaign to bring chaos and fear to the country.

Girls at school
Schools are easy targets for those who oppose education

Just how co-ordinated this campaign might be is difficult to say, but every day the list of dead and injured is increasing.

Some days there are more attacks across Afghanistan than there are in Iraq.

"They are killing the leaders of the province," said Rahman Ibrahim, the former police chief of south-eastern Paktia province.

"They tried to assassinate the governor, the chief of police, the head of intelligence, the army chief. They tried to kill government employees.

"They pay people to burn schools and organise roadside bombs, they pay to bring unrest to the region," he said.

Government officials know there is often a price on their heads - money is being paid for carrying out attacks.

Even Taleban commanders are paying more for fighters than the Afghan security agencies are offering.


Education has been lauded by the international community as a major success story in post-Taleban Afghanistan.

Hassina Sherjan
They are specifically attacking education as they know that once people learn and think for themselves they cannot indoctrinate them again
Hassina Sherjan,

Millions of children who could not go to school are now receiving an education - many of them girls.

But in parts of the country this is changing with the new life that appears to have been breathed into the insurgency.

One student from Helmand, who did not want to be named, described the situation in his district: "There were around 2,000 students studying with me at the school, but now that has all gone to waste.

"The people with money have moved to the provincial capital and go to school over there but the rest have stayed here and they will be uneducated."

In some of the burned schools copies of the Koran had not been removed - evidence, some argue, that this was not done by religious extremists, as they would have first removed the sacred texts.

A school, empty at night, is an easy target for arsonists and a strong symbol of the state.

"Education is the foundation of any society. You cannot rebuild after decades of war without educating and it should be the very first step for development," said Hassina Sherjan, who runs girls schools for the charity Afghanaid.

"They are specifically attacking education as they know that once people learn and think for themselves they cannot indoctrinate them again with their own ideologies."

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