A lot of nonsense being written about Afghanistan: Some see it as a hopeless war, but the dirty little secret is that Afghanistan is about protecting India and the Silk Road (the central Asian countries with their oil and gas resources) for India and China.
But what to do about Afghanistan? It’s not true that it has never had a government. It has been part of various empires for at least 2800 years. But the isolation due to mountains make ruling all these isolated areas difficult, so usually the empires just allowed local clan leaders to run things as long as they didn’t attack the cities.
Saying it can’t be fixed is not true: notice there are not many “clan wars” in Italy anymore?
But a more recent lesson in history of how a country of clans can slowly evolve into a democracy can be found in the Philippines.
The Philippines still has a “love hate” relationship with the US.
Why the hate? Anyone who reads Mark Twain knows that he and many others opposed the takeover of the Philippines by the US from Spain. Back then, the Filipino elites wanted to run their own country, and most of the common folks agreed. So the US takeover was greeted with a nasty guerilla war that led to half a million dead Filipinos.
What changed the minds of many after peace was established was the Thomasite teachers.
Over 1000 volunteer teachers were placed throughout the Philippines, transforming the local schools from teaching only the elites to teaching all children.
The rote learning and the religious instructions of the previous Spanish regime was replaced with the idea of critical thinking. There was also an emphasis on practical training, as opposed to the Spanish system embedded in the Filipino elite, that looks down on engineering or mechanical skills.
The promotion of equality among students were also hindered by wealthy families who wanted their children to have special treatment. They believed that general education would create an imbalance in the country’s workforce: more demand for white collar jobs and shortage of people engaging in manual labor. To address this concern, trade and agricultural schools were propagated. Graduates of these schools were considered on equal footing with those who graduated from normal schools and universities.
One result of the Thomasite experiment is that although the “foreign” takeover was despised, many Filipinos tended to revere these teachers and like Americans on a personal basis.
This love/hate relationship continues to this day.
So what does this teach us about Afghanistan?
The way to transform that country is education.
True, there are many “Middle Eastern” charities that sponsor mosques that teach the narrow minded intolerant Wahhabi version of Islam. (As opposed to the local version, which was inspired by the Sufi mystics). Many of these mosques have schools that teach mainly religious subjects by rote. Children learn, but learn little that will be useful to them in the modern world.
In many countries, public schools and Christian funded schools fill the gap, but with the rise of Islamicist propaganda, these are in danger of being subsumed by the paranoid mindset that sees the Shiite and Sufi versions of Islam as heretical, Christians and Jews as imperialists, and Hindu India as only being fit to be destroyed.
How does one counter this spread of hatred? Education. Schools might help break the monopoly of propaganda that inspires the radicals. Teaching reading and writing and practical skills would give ordinary people the tools to better themselves. Basic schooling would allow the training of midwives, nurses and doctors to lower the huge unnecessary death rate among women and children. And literacy in a world language allows the spread of new ideas to be assimilated.
That is why the Taliban are busy killing schoolteachers, attacking female students, and burning down schools.
And that is why disabling the Taliban and making the country safer is the first step to pacify Afghanistan: for dead teachers can’t teach, and dead doctors can’t treat patients.
Did you know that health care workers (both local and foreign, including the Pakistani physicians in charge of polio eradication) who try to help locals are in danger of being killed?
A major factor in the failure of polio immunization programs is opposition by Muslim fundamentalists. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban have issued fatwas opposing vaccination as an attempt to avert Allah’s will, and as an American plot to sterilize Muslims. The Taliban have kidnapped, beaten, and assassinated vaccination workers and officials. In February 2007, physician Abdul Ghani, who was in charge of polio immunizations in a key area of disease occurrence in northern Pakistan, was killed in a terrorist bombing.
The way to fight ignorance is education.
These teachers don’t have to be American: Many experienced Muslim Indonesian, Filipino, Bengali and Egyptian teachers could fill the empty spots and be willing to teach in a secular school system.
The bad news is that without American leadership, the world will simply look away. The world is good at doing this (as the world has done with the massacres and genocides of Central Africa, where five million have been killed with nary a protest by leftists or pacifists).
It only will take an American withdrawal for this evil to take over.
And if Afghanistan is taken over by a primitive and xenophobic version of Islam, the danger is that this “victory” will spread to Pakistan, so that when the corruption gets too large for their people to tolerate, it will be the radical Islamicists in the Pakistani Army who will lead the next coup against their elected government.
President Obama, to his credit, is aware of this, but it means opposing the simplistic ideas of many who supported him on the left, those who never worked in the third world, and who prefer their simplistic answers that makes American the bad guy for all the world problems, yet never sees the reality of any other evil.
So shame on those Republicans who want to destroy President Obama for partisan purposes. He is trying his best, but has hit the reality of the situation, and is trying to balance the wish for peace with the reality of the war he must fight.
If America withdraws, it will leave a vacuum in the area, one that will be filled by Islamicists that will destabilize the entire region, (including East and SE Asia). An Islamicist government in Karachi could result in war with Indian or the destablization of western China, or even an attack against the heretics who run Iran. It would also probably cause the exacerbation of terroism against Russia.
Why the US press thinks this is about only the US, I am not sure. Maybe because the US is the world’s policeman.
Thank God that President Obama is wise enough to know removing the policeman is not the way to make the neighborhood safe.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about human rights at Makaipa blog.