New Afghan Schools Key to Overthrowing Taliban,
University of Kansas Expert Says
LAWRENCE, Kan., Oct 30, 2001 (ASCRIBE NEWS) -- The key to bringing down the Taliban may lie in building new Afghan schools, said a University of Kansas professor who specializes in Middle East and Central Asia history.
Rose Greaves, professor emeritus of history at KU, said that when the military phase in Afghanistan is completed, the United Nations should consider helping the Afghan people build better schools so that further animosity toward westerners does not develop.
Poverty-stricken Afghanistan is plagued with a network of extremist religious schools, known as madrasas. Madrasas are a long-standing Muslim tradition, created by scholars as a way to provide a free religious education to fellow Muslims.
In Afghanistan, however, this tradition has been abused; now the only schools available, madrasas provide free food and education to a desperate population while preaching strong anti-American messages through military training.
"These are run by some of the most radical of the religious teachers you can imagine," Greaves said. "If things turn out well for us, someone will have to close down a lot of those schools because they do nothing but harm."
But Greaves, who has taught Middle Eastern history to soldiers at West Point Military Academy and Fort Leavenworth's U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, said destroying the schools is not enough. Humanitarian efforts also need to concentrate on providing a better alternative for the Afghan people.
"I think the big thing is having economic development and people who are no longer hungry. Get them some shelter, some good tents and some good food, and bring in some education," she said. "After all, we didn't kill all of the Hitler youth after World War II, but we did have a rebuilding program in Germany and Japan that was very successful."
Rebuilding Afghanistan won't be an easy task, she said, because the country is divided among several ethnic groups. The Northern Alliance, for example, is made up of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazars, and they don't all get along, she said. Furthermore, the new government will have to include representation from the majority, known as the Pashtuns, many of whom currently support the Taliban government.
Nonetheless, Greaves said it was important that humanitarian efforts intensify soon, before the harsh Afghan winter begins.
"What we cannot do is let them starve to death," she said. "There's got to be a big aid effort made -- and before too long. Otherwise we are going to have a disaster on our hands that is almost unprecedented."
Although Greaves has spent much more time in neighboring Pakistan than in Afghanistan, she said the countries had many similarities, since many Pashtuns fled to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.
Greaves last visited Central Asia two years ago when she made a brief visit to Iran and Pakistan. At the time, she said, the anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was rather vocal because the country had been hit with sanctions for nuclear testing.
"One thing I noticed in Pakistan quite dramatically was the fact that the country wasn't as vigorous," she said. "It was showing, I thought, the effects of the economic sanctions, which I thought was a mistake from the beginning. And there was a dramatic growth in Islamic fundamentalism."
A vocal contingent of Islamic fundamentalists still exists in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government is playing a pivotal role in the U.S. efforts to dismantle the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. Although she has seen footage of anti-American demonstrations on the news, Greaves said she thought the media had exaggerated the magnitude of those protests.
"The demonstrations we've seen have been much less vicious than what I had expected," she said. "I don't think it's as strong as we get the impression from the television."
Another point that Greaves said the media could communicate more effectively is that bin Laden is not a religious scholar and that his call for a holy war -- or jihad -- is yet another distortion of Islamic law.
Instead, she said, bin Laden is an opportunist who has no real political or religious agenda other than to stir up the old Christian crusade against Muslims and to destroy U.S. and western interests.
"If you look at his earlier statements, he didn't talk about Palestinians except in passing," she said. "The last one I heard -- I think the last one they allowed to be aired in full -- there was a lot about the Palestinans. I simply think he caught on to the fact that this is an issue that will go -- you can run with it. I don't think he has any real care for the Palestinians."
For people who want to gain a better understanding of Afghanistan, the Taliban and bin Laden, Greaves recommended "The Taliban," a book written by Ahmed Rashid, a journalist who has covered the Afghan wars for more than 20 years.
-- Professor Greaves has taught at University of Kansas, West Point Military Academy, Fort Leavenworth US Army Command and General Staff College.
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