Some 18,000 students are unlikely to resume their schooling in a remote Afghan district as millions of Afghan girls and boys return to schools this week after summer break.
Hundreds of families in Darzab, a restive district in northern Jawzjan Province, received night letters this week from the ultra-radical Islamic State (IS) militants urging them to resist sending their children back to school.
IS, locally known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, told parents to instead prepare their children to learn a new curriculum the hard-line group is preparing for Darzab schools.
Darzab District Governor Baz Mohammad Dawar confirmed the threats. He says IS has also asked teachers in the rural district to deposit amounts equal to their salaries for two months. The group also wants teachers to hand over government-issued debit cards, which they use to withdraw their salaries from a nearby branch of Kabul Bank.
“[For months,] Daesh has controlled all schools in Darzab district and has forced all of them to close,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “By controlling teachers’ salaries, Daesh now wants them to teach a curriculum it chooses.”
In July, Jawzjan officials said IS banned girls from going to school in Darzab and also destroyed a dozen of the district’s 47 schools.
Naimaullah, a Darzab resident, said IS militants are now trying to control all aspects of the lives of Darzab’s estimated 60,000 residents.
“This is an extremely alarming situation.” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They do not control the district center but have sway over all of the villages, and they are trying to implement whatever rules they can lay their hands on.”
In June, IS fighters claimed to have captured Darzab. But they were soon forced to leave the main population centers after facing separate attacks from the government forces and the Taliban.
Civilians are paying a high price for the insecurity. Thousands have fled the violence and harsh IS rule.
Shir Muhammad, a local militia leader, claimed to have lost 60 men during the past three months.
“Our commanders asked for help from the government. We asked them to send helicopters to evacuate our injured,” he told the BBC.
Strategically located on the crossroads of Jawzjan, Sar-e Pol, and Faryab provinces in northern Afghanistan close to Central Asia, control Darzab would be a major boost for IS.
Alem Rehmanyar contributed reporting from Jawzjan, Afghanistan.