Is Education a Better Weapon in Stabilizing Afghanistan?

    American soldiers provide security during a school evaluation in Wesh, Afghanistan. Photo by: International Security Assistance Force / CC BY International Security Assistance ForceCC BY

    To send one soldier or build 20 schools?

    This is a point worth pondering by the Obama administration when it comes to its engagement in Afghanistan, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argues.

    The U.S. war on terror, including Afghanistan and Iraq, has been by far the most expensive war in American history apart from World War II, Kristof cites a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. The report adjusted costs of all previous wars for inflation.  

    What’s more effective in neutralizing foreign extremism than military power is education, Kristof says.

    “The latest uproar over Pakistani hand-holding with the Afghan Taliban underscores that billions of dollars in U.S. military aid just doesn’t buy the loyalty it used to. In contrast, education can actually transform a nation. That’s one reason Bangladesh is calmer than Pakistan, Oman is less threatening than Yemen,” Kristof writes in his NYT column.

    Aid agencies such as CARE prove that it is possible to run schools in Afghanistan “so long as there is respectful consultation with tribal elders and buy-in from them,” Kristof says.

    CARE operates 300 schools in the war-torn nation.

    “Over all, education has a rather better record than military power in neutralizing foreign extremism. And the trade-offs are staggering: For the cost of just one soldier  in Afghanistan for one year, we could start about 20 schools there,” Kristof says.

    About the author

    • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

      As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.