Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teach a Man a Fish?

Education…Alternative Option for Stabilizing Afghanistan

In a recent article ( NYTimes columnist Nikolas Kristof identified an alternative to the current options up for debate regarding sending American soldiers to Afghanistan: he proposes allocating money for starting and supporting schools as opposed to military operations. In the midst of such contentious debate about American military involvement, this fresh idea provokes some alternative questions and ideas about how best to maximize resources in the fight against terror.

So much of the argument surrounding the next phase of US involvement in Afghanistan has focused on General Stanley McChrystal’s report, an assessment that calls for more troops and a greater focus on counterinsurgency efforts in order to “win over” the Afghan population. While the goal has merit, are there alternative approaches to achieving said goal via military efforts? From this arm-chair perspective, guns provide superficial protection and while simultaneously creating enemies. Schools educate and empower – a far more effective form of self-sustaining protection.

This old proverb seems to relate:
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Similarly, if you send a soldier (or 40,000) to Afghanistan, you make a population and weak government dependent on your presence, and you provide your enemies and critics with continued motivation to antagonize you. However, if you focus your energy on educating the population, providing them with skills and knowledge that will enhance their collective capacity to cultivate food and ideas, you can empower them to transform their own country.

Furthermore, providing education is providing protection. US forces can and should train additional Afghan National Security Forces, but our investment should also be in the non-military population of Afghanistan. By raising the level of education among the population – albeit a long-term project – we set the stage for the people to enhance their productivity and transform their governance. Is that an echo of Paul Collier I hear? By investing in education, we provide greater potential for domestic stability, which in turn serves our security interests by suppressing and eradicating radicalism.

However, efforts to increase education must be accompanied by incentives to keep educated people in Afghanistan; we don’t want to cause a brain drain that further bankrupts the country.

Ultimately, funding educational ventures would garner far greater support domestically and among the international community. After so much debate and hesitation, why not try a fresh approach to counterinsurgency? Let us sow seeds of education and self-sustaining development, rather than enabling dependency and risking additional lives.

I’ll bring the worms…

1 comment:

General Franklin Kirby said...

I'm all for alternative approaches to improving Afghanistan: schools, female business opportunities, even birth control awareness. But the fundamental issue is improving the security on the ground so that such reforms can be undertaken. You have, in essence, a group of people so "traditional" that they see any form of societal improvement as a western/American-led attempt to subvert their culture and Islam. We have to get rid of these morons whose mission is to hold their country back. Or, at minimum, provide enough security for public service improvements to be felt so the majority of the country sees the merits of progression and will resist fundamentalist pressures in the future.