The general security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated significantly in 2008 resulting in a larger number of civilian deaths. According to a UN report the civilian death toll rose 40 per cent compared to the previous year, from 1,523 to 2,118; many resulted from militant attacks, but the US-led coalition was responsible for 828 of the deaths.

The increase in cross-border attacks between US forces and insurgents in Pakistan's North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) has put Afghan tribal Pashtuns in greater danger. Afghan law-makers and activists have expressed concern that while military campaigns in Pashtun areas have increased, nothing is being done by the Afghan government to counter the growth of extremism in those areas. Earlier in 2008 Afghan President Hamid Karzai, himself a Pashtun, said in a speech that the Pashtuns have suffered the most at the hands of the militants.

Ethnic tensions increased between an ethnic group, the Hazaras, and Kuchi nomads over grazing lands amidst severe droughts through most of the year. In March and July 2008 thousands of Hazaras took to the streets threatening to take up arms against Kuchis if they entered the Bamiyan and Wardak provinces. Kuchi nomads traditionally move from place to place in search of grazing for their flocks.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the Independent Directorate of Kuchi Affairs (IDKA) warned that the clashes between the communities – which were worse in 2008 than in previous years – could lead to conflict.

In April provincial security officials in the northern province of Balkh, about 15 km from the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, discovered a mass grave containing about 100 bodies. According to media reports residents in the areas believed the dead were from the Hazara community, who were massacred when the Taliban captured the area in the late 1990s.

In spring 2008 the Afghan government banned the film The Kite Runner, based on the novel by an Afghan author, which depicts the rape of an ethnic Hazara boy by an ethnic Pashtun boy. The Minister of Cultural Affairs said it showed ethnic groups in Afghanistan 'in a bad light'.

Afghanistan's stringent blasphemy laws remained a severe threat to minorities. On 11 September, a Kabul court sentenced two prominent journalists, Ahmed Ghous Zalmai and Mullah Qari Mushtaq, to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari translation of the Qur'an that allegedly contained errors.

Significant progress has been recorded in Afghanistan since the 2002 defeat of the Taliban, in getting children enrolled into schools. Despite this, half of school-age children remain out of school according to UNESCO, including large numbers of girls and nomadic children.

The current high level of violence poses a major security risk to children and the continuation of their education, particularly in the tribal areas bordering Pakistan. Attacks against children, including acid attacks against girls who were attending school, were reported through 2008. According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, in 45 districts of 12 provinces about 610-20 schools have been closed due to violence, mostly in the four southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Urozgan.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission continued to record complaints of religious minority students from the Sikh and Hindu faiths who were prevented from enrolling in some schools. There have also been cases where Sikh and Hindu children have been forced to drop out of school as a result of harassment.

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