Holding the line in Afghanistan
With Iraq's reconstruction mired in Al Qaeda's well-planned guerrilla warfare, and Taliban remnants resurgent throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, there seems scant room in US policyplanning these days to focus on long-term strategies aimed at stabilizing countries ravaged by radicalism. But by not doing so, US policymakers are showing signs of forgetting the reasons Osama bin Laden's legions were willing to strike out and die for their cause.Skip to next paragraph
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While the terrorist challenge will not easily fade, as multiple, indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have now shown, it is vital to limit the scope and impact of its threat by focusing on educating future generations in countries that are today's havens for terrorists. US policymakers must focus on cutting the terrorists' recruitment cords by rehabilitating the education systems of countries like Afghanistan so the pursuit of jihad becomes one of seeking knowledge and becoming productive members of society, not joining terrorists in their quest to destroy humanity.
After 23 years of conflict, Afghanistan's education system had become the worst in the world. An estimated 80 percent of the country's 7,000 schools were damaged, if not completely destroyed. At the height of the Soviet invasion, primary-school enrollment was roughly 54 percent for boys and 15 percent for girls. But war with the Soviets, followed by a devastating civil war and the antieducation rule of the Taliban, reduced those numbers to 35 percent for boys and just 3 percent for girls at the primary school level, and 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively, at secondary levels.
Little wonder that bin Laden and Al Qaeda's educated leadership structure thrived in such a vacuum, picking off young men prone to years of systematic fighting to join its jihadist plots because they had no system in place to teach them any better. Targeting the uneducated was, from the inception of Al Qaeda, a cornerstone of the terror group's strategy for expansion.
Initial efforts to revive Afghanistan's education system, and that of Pakistan where radicalism still thrives, may yet be successful if US policy planners can be persuaded that results are forthcoming from the trickle of money being sent in. Preliminary data from Afghanistan is promising, but much more needs to be done to stay the course.
An estimated 2 million children of the more than 4.5 million eligible (compared with only 1.5 million in school prior to 2002) are expected to enroll at the primary-school level by the start of the 2004 school year.
Female enrollment will represent 30 percent of the total, but needs to rise above 50 percent to sustain the trend toward educating more of the female population. The number of female teachers is also increasing, one signal that US policy is having a positive effect on Afghanistan's harsh antiwomen measures.