With Iraq's reconstruction mired in Al Qaeda's well-planned guerrilla warfare, and Taliban remnants resurgent throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, there seems scant room in US policyplanning these days to focus on long-term strategies aimed at stabilizing countries ravaged by radicalism. But by not doing so, US policymakers are showing signs of forgetting the reasons Osama bin Laden's legions were willing to strike out and die for their cause.
While the terrorist challenge will not easily fade, as multiple, indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have now shown, it is vital to limit the scope and impact of its threat by focusing on educating future generations in countries that are today's havens for terrorists. US policymakers must focus on cutting the terrorists' recruitment cords by rehabilitating the education systems of countries like Afghanistan so the pursuit of jihad becomes one of seeking knowledge and becoming productive members of society, not joining terrorists in their quest to destroy humanity.
After 23 years of conflict, Afghanistan's education system had become the worst in the world. An estimated 80 percent of the country's 7,000 schools were damaged, if not completely destroyed. At the height of the Soviet invasion, primary-school enrollment was roughly 54 percent for boys and 15 percent for girls. But war with the Soviets, followed by a devastating civil war and the antieducation rule of the Taliban, reduced those numbers to 35 percent for boys and just 3 percent for girls at the primary school level, and 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively, at secondary levels.
Little wonder that bin Laden and Al Qaeda's educated leadership structure thrived in such a vacuum, picking off young men prone to years of systematic fighting to join its jihadist plots because they had no system in place to teach them any better. Targeting the uneducated was, from the inception of Al Qaeda, a cornerstone of the terror group's strategy for expansion.