President Hamid Karzai ushered in the new school year with the ringing of the first bell and a speech calling on the Taliban to abandon the practice of targeting schools for political ends.

The forced closure and arson of schools is hostility against the children of Afghanistan without any Islamic justification, Karzai said Saturday.

“If the Taliban are committed to Islam, the religion’s edict on education is clear – that is, to learn from the cradle to the grave. And if they call themselves Afghan, then an Afghan’s child has the same right to education as a Pakistani’s,” Karzai said in his address to those gathered at Amani high school in Kabul.

Karzai spoke of his respect for teachers and how he would have preferred to be one instead of being a president for the last decade.

“I would have been younger if I, Hamid Karzai, was a teacher and not a president for the last ten years. I would have been more calm and could have served this nation better,” he said, adding that teachers are a foundation for society.

The president also pointed out the challenges Afghanistan’s education system has faced.

“Our schools, over the past ten years, have been attacked. In Kandahar, acid was thrown on girls. In Takhar, there were attempts for poisoning girls, and in other places schools were burnt or shut down,” he added.

The Minister of Education Farooq Wardak said, however, that he does not believe it is the Taliban who is attacking schools.

“Whether they burned the schools or not, it will be blamed in their [Taliban] name. They should stop those who are doing this,” he said.

According to statistics from the Persian year 1391 (22 March 2012 to 21 March 2013), more than 3 million children were stopped from going to school because of the violence and there are still more than 450 schools closed in nine provinces of Afghanistan.

Mostly insurgents have been blamed for the issue.

More than 1.5 million new students are expected to start school in Afghanistan this new Persian year 1392, bringing the total number of the country’s students to 10.5 million.