Continuing with the Afghanistan theme, Nicholas Kristof makes an excellent point in a new NY Times op-ed: (post?) modern warfare is not only about military dominance but also just as importantly ideological. It is not only the terrain that makes the Taliban harder to defeat, but also their ability to sway the allegiances of uneducated and ideologically susceptible people. To quote Kristof at length:

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

Another program that is enjoying great success in undermining the Taliban is the National Solidarity Program, or N.S.P., which helps villages build projects that they choose — typically schools, clinics, irrigation projects, bridges. This is widely regarded as one of the most successful and least corrupt initiatives in Afghanistan.

“It’s a terrific program,” said George Rupp, the president of the International Rescue Committee. “But it’s underfunded. And it takes very little: for the cost of one U.S. soldier for a year, you could have the N.S.P. in 20 more villages.”

These kinds of projects — including girls’ schools — are often possible even in Taliban areas. One aid group says that the Taliban allowed it to build a girls’ school as long as the teachers were women and as long as the textbooks did not include photos of President Hamid Karzai. And the Taliban usually don’t mess with projects that have strong local support. (That’s why they haven’t burned any of Mr. Mortenson’s schools.)

Statements like this show that the Taliban can be pushed back through more ingenious means than just warfare.


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