Thirty Taliban militants in Afghanistan were killed when a bomb exploded during an explosives-making class at a mosque in Afghanistan’s Balkh province last weekend. The Khaama Press news agency, citing military sources, said at least six of the dead were foreigners. A representative of the Afghan Army’s 209th Shaheen Corps said in a statement that only 24 bodies of the dead, all of them Afghans, have been identified.

The Taliban often use homemade explosives to attack foreign forces in Afghanistan. In recent years there have been unexpected detonations such as this one, in which dozens of Taliban have been killed. The use of mosques in Afghanistan to train fighters is a matter of concern for the authorities.

Fawad Aman, a ministerial spokesman, said there were no survivors in the blast, which was described as “the deadliest of its kind” for the insurgents. The Taliban confirmed the blast, but denied reports of casualties.

The Balkh region has been one of Afghanistan’s relatively safe areas until recent years, but the Taliban have extended their reach from their traditional power base in the south and southeast of the country since the drawdown of U.S.-led troops in recent years and due to infighting among government leaders.

Recently, the Afghan government has decided to put mosques to a new use by approving children to study their first three years of primary school in these religious compounds to receive a “powerful Islamic identity”. This unusual measure, taken at the end of last year, raised a great deal of controversy in some sectors of the country.

The idea of the Ministry of Education is that after completing the three years in the mosques, students will continue their education in regular non-religious schools. Afghanistan is an Islamic republic where Islam is practiced by 99.7% of its population. Approximately 90% of Afghans follow Sunni Islam and the rest are Shia.

This unprecedented decision may encourage, according to some critical voices, radicalization and extremism among young people. Yaqub Yasna, a popular Afghan writer, reproached the government for using mosques for this purpose as they are not a teaching environment. Sending children there would be a misuse of education and religion, he argues. Journalist Mujtar Wafayi believes, in the same vein, that this move is another step towards a “Talibanization” of society.

While normal schools operated during the Taliban regime in the 1990s, madrasas or religious schools were common at that time. Even now, the Taliban ask students in areas under their control to regularly attend religious schools in addition to the usual secular education.

Afghanistan has one of the worst records of out-of-school children in the world. According to a United Nations report, an estimated 3.7 million children are unable to attend school due to war, poverty and cultural barriers.

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