Mr. Kristoff says Greg Mortenson, the author of “Three Cups of Tea,” told him that “for the cost of just 246 American soldiers in Afghanistan for a year, we could pay for a higher education plan for all Afghanistan.” Can you imagine the global impact of educating a tribal society over the next decade, all for less than 0.1 percent of our annual military spending?
To be fair, the US government has made some strides. In December 2011, an Afghan version of “Sesame Street” – a program funded by the US State Department and produced in consultation with Afghanistan's Ministry of Education – was launched. Afghanistan has one of the highest proportions of school-age children in the world, yet less than half are in school.
This leaves millions of young Afghans, mostly girls and women, vulnerable to poverty and Taliban influence. As the US withdraws its troops and the Taliban regain control – which they will in varying degrees – they are likely to enforce misogynistic policies with impunity and recruit 14-year olds for suicide bombings.
Some will blame Islam itself for this inhumanity. But their reasoning doesn’t hold up. Why don’t American Muslims blow themselves up? Because they are educated. They have a good life. They have plans for tomorrow. For an Afghan kid, it’s different.
About 12,000 Afghan civilians were killed just between 2007 and 2011. Their children are put in a position where they may be more easily recruited by the Taliban to fight in “God’s army against the infidel.” This army is funded in part by Saudi oil money to nurture the extremist Wahhabi and anti-western mindset in the religious madrassahs. In the 1980s, the Saudis matched America’s anti-communism budget of $500 million to uproot the Soviets in Afghanistan. Now, their motivations for funding the Taliban are different.