As the war in Iraq continues and the United States and the world slump further into the recession, the media and many Americans are overlooking the war in Afghanistan.
Although the death toll of 824 is not as large as the war in Iraq’s, Afghanistan continues to be a hotbed for terrorism and extremists.
The government still has little influence outside Kabul and many areas of Afghanistan are outright controlled by the Taliban. The key to fighting terrorism and the insurgency in Afghanistan is not simply brute force.
President Barack Obama recently approved sending an additional 22,000 troops to the war-torn nation, but as the Soviet Union proved in the ’80s, sheer military might will not win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people, which are crucial to winning the war.
What we as a nation failed to realize then and are largely failing to realize now is that poverty, not ideology, is at the root of extremism and fundamentalism. There are many extremists simply unwilling to compromise on their goal of a fundamentalist state, but most Afghanis do not share this ideology.
During the Soviet invasion, Afghanis happily accepted American aid to fend off their invaders. But after the war, the United States simply forgot about one of the poorest countries in the world. Instead of giving Afghanistan money to repair the infrastructure destroyed by the war by building roads and schools, the United States left the poor, war-torn country to fend for itself.
As a result, Afghanistan descended into civil war and subsequent rule by the Taliban. Under the Taliban, Afghanis’ condition worsened even further. The World Factbook estimates Afganistan’s GDP per capita in 2007 was just $1,000 per year.
In America, we are in a panic about the havoc the recession is wreaking on our economy. Jobs are disappearing, wages are stagnating and many financial institutions are failing.
But how many of us could live on $1,000 a year? Many of us cannot imagine living on $1,000 a month.
While we worry about our financial institutions and maintaining our $41,890 GDP per capita, people in Afghanistan and many other countries around the world without an infrastructure or modern economy worry about the struggle between life and death daily.
In 2005, UNICEF estimated that 1.6 percent of mothers in Afghanistan died giving birth and one in five Afghan children died before they reached the age of five. The effect of this abject poverty that plagues the country is widespread malcontent accompanied by a willingness to accept radical and extreme ideas such as those offered by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The base and radical ideologies offered by these organizations found fertile ground among the destitute and uneducated masses of Afghanistan. Just like any people would be, Afghans are willing to try anything to improve their desperate condition.
America needs to realize the key to winning the war is improving the lives of average Afghanis. Removing the desperation of the average person living in Afghanistan will decrease their willingness to tolerate the hateful messages of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
By building roads, schools and hospitals in their country, we can show Afghanis the goodwill of the American people and show them we see their condition, we sympathize and we are going to do something about it.
So next time your senator or representative votes to cut aid to Afghanistan or any country living in absolute poverty, remember we made that mistake once already and cannot afford to make it again.
We must invest in the people of Afghanistan.
Michael Kittleson is a freshman political science and public relations major from Byron. He is a Scout staff reporter.
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