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Cablegate: Prt Khost: Madrassa Students -- "The Real Taliban"

VZCZCXRO5624
RR RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0252/01 0310509
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 310509Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2608
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 000252

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A
NSC FOR WOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-82 POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL MOPS AF
SUBJECT: PRT KHOST: MADRASSA STUDENTS -- "THE REAL TALIBAN"
-- CITE GAP WITH GOVERNMENT AND U.S., SEEK MORE RESOURCES

1. SUMMARY: Madrassa students and mullahs in Khost have
welcomed initial GIRoA efforts to reinforce and better fund
balanced religious education in Afghanistan. Hundreds of
students and mullahs have stressed to the PRT that the
longstanding gap between religious students ) who call
themselves the "real Taliban" (Note: "Taliban" means
religious student) - and the GIRoA has aided extremist
propaganda and objectives. Minister of Education Atmar told
a Khost leadership delegation that the most important project
in the entire province would be a major madrassa adjacent to
the UAE-funded Khost University campus. The facility will
provide quality religious instruction in a professional
setting tied to the government. Minister Atmar has publicly
announced his desire to build government-approved madrassas
in every province (pending funding) that would teach both
standard subjects such as history and math as well as
subjects related to Islam.

2. Khost madrassa students assert that religious extremists
attempt to recruit them by stressing the lack of GIRoA
attention to their needs. Notably, senior Khost mullahs,
supported by Khost Governor Arsala Jamal, have advocated the
formation of a new "Taliban Shura" comprised of religious
students in Khost. Minister Atmar is expected to visit Khost
in February to emphasize GIRoA's commitment to a structured
and balanced program of Islamic education (reportedly, only
14 of Khost's 84 madrassas are registered). The PRT is
working with provincial officials to help move that plan
forward across Khost's 13 districts, providing a model for
other parts of the country. END SUMMARY.

GAP WITH GOVERNMENT -- AND WITH AMERICANS
-----------------------------------------
3. In regular discussions hundreds of madrassa students and
dozens of mullahs have expressed concerns about the large gap
that exists between them and the GIRoA and the coalition.
One senior mullah said that the most effective way to defeat
religious extremists over the long term was through support
of moderate madrassas and empowerment of moderate Islamic
students. In his words, "We must win this battle ourselves."
He added, however, that the GIRoA's efforts to help
religious moderates had so far been minimal.

4. A majority of madrassa students have openly questioned
GIRoA and U.S. educational priorities in Khost. While many
welcome the public emphasis on education (50 new boys, and
girls, schools in 2007, for example), they question why
resources have been largely limited to regular school
infrastructure and female education. One madrassa student
remarked in a session in Khost's remote and mountainous Musa
Kehl District that religious students there felt neglected
"by the government and by the PRT." Several students have
further argued that this gap makes "good Taliban" (i.e.,
themselves, in the classical meaning of "Taliban" as
"religious student") believe the coalition is either
indifferent to their needs or, more damagingly, anti-Islam.

5. Khost madrassa students have told the PRT that terrorist
propaganda has effectively exploited this gap since 2001; one
student, who spent time in Pakistan's madrassas, said that
"they (extremists) ask us, 'What has the Afghan government or
coalition done for you?'" It is customary in many Pashtun
Afghan homes in border provinces for between one-quarter and
one-half of male children to attend area madrassas (usually
the eldest son, at a minimum, and several sons among large
families in the more remote and conservative Pashtun belt
areas). With past government and PRT efforts focused
primarily on non-religious educational needs, divisions have
grown. Even regular school teachers and non-religious
students (most of whom have brothers attending madrassas)
have voiced these concerns. They point to the perception
that the GIRoA, alongside perceived U.S. indifference, has
intentionally sidelined madrassas or deemed most or all to be
sources of religious fanaticism, which they said undercuts
stability across Khost.

MODERATE MULLAHS AS MESSENGERS
------------------------------
6. Senior mullah and ex-PTS (reconciliation) program director
Mullah Sardar has highlighted the need for moderate religious
leaders in Pakistan who are Afghan natives to be welcomed

KABUL 00000252 002 OF 003


back to Afghanistan. Recent increased fighting in Pakistan's
tribal areas, he noted, has created an opportunity for Afghan
education officials to recruit top, moderate mullahs back
into Afghan mosques and madrassas. Sardar said the GIRoA
would need to increase salaries, however; on average,
"private" madrassa teachers collect 20,000-30,000 Afghani per
month in fees -- ten times the official government salary.

7. Mullah Sardar noted that a majority of eastern
Afghanistan's madrassa students prefer to be educated inside
Afghanistan, but lack options. Many students have echoed
this desire in discussions with the PRT. Several have said
that increased fighting in Pakistan, especially in border
areas, has led to a reverse flow of religious students from
Pakistan traveling to Afghanistan for instruction -- a first,
despite Afghanistan's more limited religious education
options.

SHURA: REAL TALIBAN WANT GOOD NAME BACK
----------------------------------------
8. Khost Governor Jamal has supported calls by key Khost
mullahs to establish a new "Taliban Shura," meaning a shura
composed of students of Islam. Mullah Sardar has said that a
forum for religious students would empower moderate voices
inside madrassas, although all viewpoints would be respected.
The PRT has met with numerous groups of Khost madrassa
students since summer 2007, all of which exhibited the full
spectrum of Islamic ideology, ranging from extreme and openly
anti-coalition in outlook to moderates and those in favor of
U.S. and government reconstruction and security initiatives.
The new Taliban Shura would allow these internal debates to
be held in a formal body through which government officials
could be regularly engaged regarding needs and concerns.

9. Several madrassa students have told the PRT that media
reports of government officials describing "Taliban attacks,
Taliban extremists, Taliban deaths, etc." have offended and
alienated them. They stress that the widespread misuse of
the term by both extremists and the international community
has reinforced a desire to re-take "our holy name" so that a
Taliban is once again a student. Two madrassa students in
central Khost said they understood why western media used the
term to describe militants, but noted that the net effect
inevitably led to more frustration within moderate madrassa
populations. These self-described &real Taliban8 said that
the &fake Taliban8 are, in truth, nothing more than
terrorists -- and should be called terrorists, and not be
allowed to share their name.

COMMENT
-------
10. The construction of a major madrassa will begin in late
January 2008. It will be adjacent to the new Khost
University campus, and be of a comparable high quality.
Minister Atmar has tentatively agreed to visit Khost in
February for a series of education-related events, to include
the opening of the new university campus and sessions with
religious leaders reinforcing GIRoA's commitment to Islamic
education. The Ministry of Education (MoE) appointed a new
deputy director for Islamic education in Khost and plans to
appoint such directors in every province, a visible step that
the resource-deprived madrassas and their students welcomed.
Additionally, the GIRoA will build a new district madrassa
with CERP funds in Sabari District in the coming months and
has already identified a site for a second madrassa.

11. Equally important and revealing, moderate madrassa
students and mullahs in Khost look to the PRT and the
coalition for greater awareness of their needs, not
necessarily direct funding. The current gap between them,
their government -- and with the PRT -- does not require an
overt U.S. role, which would likely lead to negative
perceptions of U.S. interference. Reinforcing GIRoA and MoE
plans to build government-supervised district madrassas that
teach both the traditional curriculum of the Islamic faith as
well as secular subjects, however, represents an essential
and overdue counterinsurgency step. Khost is a frontline
province where current ideological battles internal to its
mosques and madrassas remain heated and with lasting
repercussions. Madrassa students here persuasively argue
that only they can defeat religious extremists from the

KABUL 00000252 003 OF 003


inside, but only with more direct Afghan government support
that is sufficiently resourced.
WOOD

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