Sunday, July 13, 2008

Missiles versus Schools for Pakistan's Tribal Areas

Taliban's Resurgence

The voices of the critics of Bush administration are being raised again more loudly and clearly as the resurgent Taliban step up their attacks and cause more casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to a BBC report today, nine US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, in one of the biggest losses of American life in a single incident since operations there began in 2001. Another news report said militants in north-west Pakistan have killed at least eight Pakistani soldiers. At least 22 other Pakistani troops were wounded in the attack on their convoy outside Hangu city, near the border with Afghanistan. Three militants were said to have been killed as the soldiers returned fire.

In addition to the killing of military personnel, the Taliban have targeted many civilians and killed a Pakistani medical doctor and a number of Shia citizens last week. Several UNICEF health workers have also been kidnapped.

It Takes Schools, Not Missiles

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff has an Op Ed piece titled "It Takes a School, Not Missiles" in today's newspapers. Reviewing Greg Mortenson's book "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time", Kristoff argues "a lone Montanan (Mortenson) staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration". Kristoff quotes Greg Mortenson, an Army veteran, as saying “Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country".

Who is Greg Mortenson?

For those readers unfamiliar with Greg Mortenson and his volunteer efforts in building schools in Pakistan, here is a brief summary:

In 1993, Greg Mortenson, an American from the state of Montana, went to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Two local Balti porters took Mortenson to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where he recovered.

To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to found the Central Asia Institute. A non-profit organization, CAI's mission is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hoerni named Mortenson as CAI's first Executive Director.

In the process of building schools, Mortenson has survived an eight-day armed 1996 kidnapping in the tribal areas of Waziristan in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, escaped a 2003 firefight between Afghan opium warlords, endured a fatwā by an angry Islamic cleric for educating girls, and received hate mail and threats from fellow Americans for helping educate Muslim children.

He believes that the best way to "fight" terrorism is to build schools free of the Taliban's oversight (because he believes the Taliban promotes hatred). Because of this, several of the school's Mortenson's group built were destroyed by the Taliban, but the communities rebuilt them.

Mortenson and David Oliver Relin are co-authors of the New York Times best selling book Three Cups of Tea. During the serialization of the book on BBC Radio 4 in 2008, the BBC reported that Greg Mortenson had set up over sixty schools and as a result over 25,000 children had been educated. Pennies for Peace is a program Mortenson launched to involve American school-children in fund-raising efforts for the schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What Brought Us Here?

As we criticize the Bush policies and demand the building of more schools rather than launch more missile attacks, I think it’s important to understand the origins of the Taliban and then try to deal with the effects of their ascendancy. Most of the radical madrasahs in Pakistan were built in the 1980s with the support of the CIA, the ISI and the Saudis as a way of finding, recruiting and preparing young men to fight against the Soviet Union. The madrasahs before the 1980s were neither radical nor politicized. Most were focused on feeding, clothing, sheltering and providing an Islamic education to youngsters with normal emphasis on Jihad as a way of rectifying social ills. The pre-1980 madrasahs were not exclusively focused on Jihad against the infidels (Russians in 1980s and Americans in this decade). The Taliban are, in fact, a product of these post-1980 radicalized madrsahs. The Taliban are mostly the children of the Afghan refugees from the war in 1980s who attended the new madrasahs in Pakistan while their home country was under Soviet occupation.

More Schools, Fewer Missiles

I strongly agree with the criticism of the Bush policy of relying excessively on military force to contain the Taliban. I think the efforts of Mr. Mortenson are extremely laudable.

I believe that the efforts like Mr. Mortenson’s should increasingly complement rather than completely replace the efforts of the military in providing security to Pakistani and Afghani people to live normal, peaceful lives. The post-1980 FATA is very different from pre-1980s FATA. The influence of the tribal elders has been completely supplanted by the Taliban leaders. Any peace efforts by peace jirgas lead to the murder of the jirga elders as soon as the military leaves the area. No one is safe from the Taliban’s fire power in the absence of Pakistani military. Not even school children who choose to attend schools not acceptable to the Taliban.

Choose Soft Power

Rather than just choosing between schools and missile, it is important that the US, Afghan and Pakistani authorities use an appropriate mix of sticks and carrots and shift more and more toward the use of soft power as the security situation improves and the people on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border begin to enjoy the fruits of peace in the region.


Anonymous said...

Its very unfair to blame Bush for everything. It is the responsibility of Pak Govt to build schools and stuff. Why did they siphoned off $10 Billion anti-terror for advanced conventional weapon systems. They certainly could have used at least a part of it for building schools and stuff. I just can't believe it u ppl still blame Bush for everything. Your intel ppl gave Atta $100,000 for 9/11 ops.Still USA only forced you to co-operate to dismantle Taliban and modernization and registration of Madrassas in Pak. Its too late for fighting terror by building schools. Now its time for emergency response and most probably its on its way.If its not for Colin Powell in the first term of Pres.Bush,Pak would have been struck much much before. Pak is the training ground for all islamic terrorists(Afgan,Chechan,Algerians,Uzbeks,Kashmiris,
Ugirs,2ndgen muslims in Western countries,Arabs etc) in the world and Saudi Arabia is the terror financier. Both of them will have to pray for price for their misadventures. UK paid the price for hosting extremist elements in its territory, America paid its price with 9/11 for being ambivalent to Taliban/Al-queda for this long. What goes around, comes around.No doubt about it.

Riaz Haq said...

In your unvarnished bigotry and hatred toward Pakistan, you have completely missed the whole point of my post. I am arguing in this post that building schools is no substitute for military action to contain the Taliban. It's not either or. We need both to deal with the situation.

Anonymous said...

hey bro good work i like what you arite and don't lesten to this naive persons comment .I lived in america for eight years and believe me americans are the least informed people in the world .Its sad to believe this but its true their media only shows them what the government wants the people to know .They have may be 5% knowledge of what is actually going on in the world around them .so plz don't pay attention to this idiot and keep up the good work

Riaz Haq said...

Here is an Op Ed by NY Times Columnist Nicholas Kristoff:

A visitor to Afghanistan who ventures outside the American security bubble sees pretty quickly that President Obama’s decision to triple the number of troops in Afghanistan has resulted, with some exceptions, mostly in more dead Americans and Afghans alike.

So what can we do instead? Some useful guidance comes from the man whom Afghans refer to as “Dr. Greg” — Greg Mortenson, an American who runs around in Afghan clothing building schools, as chronicled in the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.”

The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong.

An organization set up by Mr. Mortenson and a number of others are showing that it is quite possible to run schools in Taliban-controlled areas. I visited some of Mr. Mortenson’s schools, literacy centers and vocational training centers, and they survive the Taliban not because of military protection (which they eschew) but because local people feel “ownership” rather than “occupation.”

“Aid can be done anywhere, including where Taliban are,” Mr. Mortenson said. “But it’s imperative the elders are consulted, and that the development staff is all local, with no foreigners.”

In volatile Kunar Province, which borders Pakistan, the Taliban recently ordered a halt to a school being built by Mr. Mortenson’s organization, the Central Asia Institute. But the villagers rushed to the school’s defense. The Taliban, which have been mounting a campaign for hearts and minds, dropped the issue, according to Wakil Karimi, who leads Mr. Mortenson’s team in Afghanistan.

In another part of Kunar Province, the Central Asia Institute is running a girls’ primary school and middle school in the heart of a Taliban-controlled area. Some of the girls are 17 or 18, which is particularly problematic for fundamentalists (who don’t always mind girls getting an education as long as they drop out by puberty). Yet this school is expanding, and now has 320 girls, Mr. Karimi said.

It survives because it is run by the imam of the mosque, and he overcomes Taliban protests by framing it as a madrassa, not a school. That seems less alien to fundamentalists and gives them a face-saving excuse to look the other way.

In Uruzgan Province, Mr. Mortenson and Mr. Karimi are beginning to pay imams to hold classes for girls in their mosques. That puts a divine stamp on girls’ education.
Government schools regularly get burned down, but villagers tell me that that’s because they’re seen as alien institutions built by outside construction crews. In contrast, CARE runs 300 schools in Afghanistan and not one has been burned down, the aid organization says. The Afghan Institute of Learning, run by a redoubtable Afghan woman named Sakena Yacoobi, has supported more than 300 schools and none have been burned, the institute says. Another great aid organization, BRAC, runs schools, clinics and microfinance programs — and operates in every single province in Afghanistan.

Then there’s the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, which is based in New York and helps Afghan villagers improve agricultural yields in the most unstable parts of the country. Some Taliban commanders have even sent word inviting the group into their areas.

Mr. Mortenson says that $243 million is needed to fund all higher education in Afghanistan this year. He suggests that America hold a press conference here in Kabul and put just 243 of our 100,000 soldiers (each costing $1 million per year) on planes home. Then the U.S. could take the savings and hand over a check to pay for Afghanistan’s universities.

Is this talk of schools and development naïve? Military power is essential, but it’s limited in what it can achieve. There’s abundant evidence that while bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, can transform them. That’s just being pragmatic.

Riaz Haq said...

The popular CBS 60 Minutes investigative journalists have accused Greg Mortenson of inaccuracies in his claims and of personally benefiting from his charity. Here's a BBC report on CBS claims and Mortenson's response:

The best-selling book Three Cups of Tea, which follows the author Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools across Central Asia, is filled with inaccuracies, a US documentary says.

The CBS 60 Minutes report alleges that his charitable foundation took credit for building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan which do not exist.

The documentary also says Mr Mortenson uses the charitable group as a "private ATM machine".

Mr Mortenson denies the allegations.

In an email he sent out to supporters and news organisations on Sunday before the programme was due to be aired, Mr Mortenson said the documentary based its claims on a single year's tax return to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The report "paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year's (2009) IRS 990 financial," the statement said.

He also posted a statement on the website of the Central Asia Institute, the charitable organisation set up to finance and build schools across the region.

"I stand by the information conveyed in my book and by the value of CAI's [Central Asia Institute] work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students," the statement says.
Claims disputed

Three Cups of Tea was released in 2006 and became a best-seller through word of mouth.

The book describes how Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer, got lost while trekking in northern Pakistan, only to be rescued by the residents of a remote village. In the book, he says the kindness of those he encoutered inspired him to build a school.

The 60 Minutes investigation says that porters who accompanied Mr Mortenson dispute his claims of being lost.

The documentary also alleges that a number of the schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan that were said to have been established by the CAI do not exist or were built by other people.

Some principals said they had not received funds from the group for years, the report claims.

The CAI's website says it has established more than 170 schools and helped educate more than 68,000 students.

The programme also questions Mr Mortenson's financial relationship with the charity.

The charity has answered the questions put to it by the programme in a statement posted on its website.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an ET story on education in Waziristan:

A quiet and peaceful revolution is taking place in South Waziristan. Girls, with the support and protection of the tribal elders and the community, are going to school. The Chaghmalai Government Girls High School is about to open its doors to welcome its first 269 students.
After staying several years in internally displaced persons’ camps or with host families elsewhere, locals are returning to South Waziristan. Due to extensive destruction during the conflict, starting again has been tough, especially for the poorest and the most vulnerable. Despite these hardships, a positive development has emerged — communities are passionate to educate their children, both boys and girls.
Since returning, the elders have held numerous jirgas with the army to discuss how to achieve lasting peace and a sustainable economic future. Perhaps, the exodus to other parts of Pakistan created a better understanding among the communities of the value of education and its role in achieving a better life. In a region where literacy rates for males is 29 per cent and for females just three per cent, this is a big step forward.
There are so many positive signs of change. During a visit in March, I attended the rehearsals for a Pakistan Day school concert in Spinkai Raghzai, one of the poorest villages. Like children all over the country, preparing for a national day celebration, the children in Spinkai Raghzai were just as excited, though a little nervous about performing in front of their peers and guests.
The theme was peace and education, developed around the quotes of the Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal. But what made this little pageant so special was the setting. This is a post-conflict environment where children and their families have suffered terror, tragedy and great loss. In the past, the Taliban ran suicide-training camps in Spinkai and it has been the scene of unimaginable horror. Even now, the children there suffer anxiety that the militants might return.
It was hard not to be emotional. Only hard-hearted cynics could fail to be touched by the sense of occasion, or how remarkable this was in a now-peaceful village with so dark a recent history, or to mock the children’s hopes and enthusiasm for a peaceful future. I was reminded of a quote from Arundhati Roy’s, The God of Small Things, “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”...

Riaz Haq said...

Education, income, and favoring #Pakistan #Taliban? Better educated, higher income #Pakistanis favor #TTP much less.

Brookings Op Ed by Madiha Afzal:

My latest analysis with data from the March 2013 Pew Global Attitudes poll conducted in Pakistan sheds new light on the relationship between years of education and Pakistanis’ views of the Taliban, and lends supports to the conventional wisdom. The survey sampled 1,201 respondents throughout Pakistan, except the most insecure areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. This was a time of mounting terror attacks by the Pakistani Taliban (a few months after their attack on Malala), and came at the tail end of the Pakistan People's Party’s term in power, before the May 2013 general elections.

On attitudes toward the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), 3 percent of respondents to the Pew poll said they had a very favorable view, 13 percent reported somewhat favorable views, while nearly 17 percent and 39 percent answered that they had somewhat unfavorable and very unfavorable views, respectively. A large percentage of respondents (28 percent) chose not to answer the question or said they did not know their views. This is typical with a sensitive survey question such as this one, in a context as insecure as Pakistan.

So overall levels of support for the TTP are low, and the majority of respondents report having unfavorable views. The non-responses could reflect those who have unfavorable views but choose not to respond because of fear, or those who may simply not have an opinion on the Pakistani Taliban.

The first part of my analysis cross-tabulates attitudes toward the TTP with education and income respectively. I look at the distribution of attitudes for each education and income category (with very and somewhat favorable views lumped together as favorable; similarly for unfavorable attitudes).

Figure 1 shows that an increasing percentage of respondents report unfavorable views of the Taliban as education levels rise; and there is a decreasing percentage of non-responses at higher education levels (suggesting that more educated people have more confidence in their views, stronger views, or less fear). However, the percentage of respondents with favorable views of the Taliban, hovering between 10-20 percent, is not that different across education levels, and does not vary monotonically with education.

Figure 2 shows views on the Pakistani Taliban by income level. While the percentage of non-responses is highest for the lowest income category, the percentages responding favorably and unfavorably do not change monotonically with income. We see broadly similar distributions of attitudes across the four income levels.


My regressions also show that older people have more unfavorable opinions toward the Taliban, relative to younger people; this is concerning and is consistent with the trend toward rising extremist views in Pakistan’s younger population. The problems in Pakistan’s curriculum that began in the 1980s are likely to be at least partly responsible for this trend. Urban respondents seem to have more favorable opinions toward the Taliban than rural respondents; respondents from Punjab and Baluchistan have more favorable opinions toward the Taliban relative to those from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which as a province has had a closer and more direct experience with terror. The regression shows no relationship of income with attitudes, as was suggested by Figure 2.

Overall, the Pew 2013 data show evidence of a positive relationship between more education and lack of support for the Taliban, suggesting that the persisting but increasingly discredited conventional wisdom on these issues may hold some truth after all. These results should be complemented with additional years of data. That is what I will work on next.