Thursday, December 3, 2009

Schools, not Soldiers: Afghanistan

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Yesterday I picked up a copy of Greg Mortenson's new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan which picks up where Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time left off. Three Cups of Tea told the story of how Mortenson, a former mountain climber who was rescued by villagers in Pakistan, came to find his life mission of building schools for impoverished children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If ever there was a man who deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Mortenson would be it! He will be in Portland on Dec. 14 and I am looking forward to hearing him talk.

In the wake of President Obama's announcement about sending more troops to Afghanistan, Nicholas Kristof has an interesting column today in the New York Times titled Johnson, Gorbachev, Obama where he quotes Mortenson who has so much experience with the local Afghan people. The column focuses on why local Afghans weren't more involved in the planning:

To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders,” said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea” and his new book, “From Stones to Schools.” “It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders’ messages is we don’t need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”

For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools...

Over time, education has been the single greatest force to stabilize societies. It’s no magic bullet, but it reduces birth rates, raises living standards and subdues civil conflict and terrorism. That’s why as a candidate Mr. Obama proposed a $2 billion global education fund — a promise he seems to have forgot.

My hunch is that if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops. Instead, he’s embarking on a buildup that may become an albatross on his presidency.
~ Nicholas Kristof

For more on Mortenson's work:
Central Asia Institute
Greg Mortenson Blog

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