Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Defeating Terrorism One School at a Time

On Monday Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, a longtime ally of U. S. President Bush, resigned in the face of growing calls for his impeachment. Musharraf was a problematic ally to the United States. Although he agreed to rein in the Islamic extremists and help root out al Queda, both groups have grown and prospered under his command. In spite of the twelve billion dollars that the United States has given Pakistan since 9/11, 90% of which has gone to the military, the Taliban and al Queda are now healthier than ever and using the northern territories of Pakistan as a base for incursions into Afghanistan.

At 169 million, Pakistan has the 5th largest population in the world. Born in the Indian Partition of 1947, it has been ruled by the military for most of its existence. While it has a nuclear arsenal and a modern army it is a “failed state” lacking in basic public infrastructure. It is in fact a feudal system, without a sufficient middle class population to ensure economic and political stability. With the majority illiterate and uneducated, Pakistan is mired in corruption and a breeding ground for Islamic extremism.

The roots of Pakistan’s malaise centers on the military’s longstanding rivalry with India, which started during the 1947 partition of India when the two states fought over who should control Kashmir, with it’s largely Muslim population. Early on, India won control, and the Pakistani military has remained obsessed with getting back at India, fighting a series of costly wars and bringing the world to the brink of a nuclear war twice, in 1999 and 2002. Meanwhile the rulers of Pakistan have consistently neglected economic development to the detriment of the Pakistani people.

Pakistan’s problems have been compounded by their “friendship” with the United States. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the CIA funneled billions into arms and training of Mujehadin insurgents in Pakistan through Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the Americans, under George Bush senior, lost interest in the region. But the Pakistani military and the ISI continued to support Islamic extremists as part of their greater game plan to foment insurgencies in Kashmir and install a weakened regime hostile to India in Afghanistan.

According to Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani author of Descent Into Chaos, one of the best books ever written about the region, the Pakistani army backed the Taliban in the ensuing civil war in Afghanistan “encouraging thousands of Pakistani youngsters to fight and die for the Taliban just as it mobilized thousands of Pakistanis to fight in the Kashmiri insurgency against India.”

“Pakistani militants were providing manpower for both the Taliban and al Queda and running a vast logistics, communication, and transit network in Pakistan on behalf of al Queda… This support base in Pakistan was to prove critical to al Queda’s survival after 9/11”. Meanwhile, George W. Bush was supporting the very Pakistani military and political system that helped fund and arm the Taliban that sheltered al Queda when it attacked the U. S. in 2001.

Let’s stop for a second and consider the following: Suppose that instead of giving military support to Pakistan’s army, the U. S. had given money to build schools in Pakistan. Think what would have happened to Pakistan’s economy and democratic institutions if aid money had gone into building and operating public schools for the last twenty years. . People who remain ignorant are more likely to offer themselves up as suicide bombers for al Queda and the Taliban. When society becomes literate the mullahs become disempowered

 fighting terrorism only perpetuates the cycle of violence.  as one well-known American said:  “You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads, or put in electricity, but unless girls are educated a society won’t change.” When you educate girls infant mortality decreases, population growth slows down, and the general health improves. .

The CIA and the ISI both contain the word “intelligence” and yet that is the very quality that is missing from their actions in the “War on Terror”.

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