Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Afghan Literacy: A Test for USAID?

"Nation Building" has to start somewhere. Loads of money and hordes of bureaucrats might just be the wrong approach. A good beginning might be somewhat simpler.

MeanMesa notes a familiar comment from those lamenting the litany of reasons why the complex struggle in Afghanistan can only just barely -- or not all -- become a success. That reason?

Most of the population of the country is illiterate.

Following closely behind this are a depressing cacophony of other, associated, and even more medieval reasons including war lords, flaming corruption, military desertion, oppression of women, lots of heroin -- oh well, you get it. However, when we pause on the illiteracy angle for a moment, we realize that it may be one of those cases where the murk of over simplified public opinion -- regarding how hopelessly bad everything -- actually obscures a tactical opportunity, one of regrettably few which seem to be on our NATO "table" right at the moment.

The plan proposed here represents a heady mix of Obama style Community Organizing, regional warlord hegemonies, a military strategy of integrating European troops into local populations and a tottering commitment by both Afghans and occupiers to suppress rampant, outrageous corruption. It promises to lay an actual, tangible foundation for a functional police force and provide an improved cadre for the autonomous security forces in training.

It can substantially augment the crippling lack of jobs in that unfortunate country. It can offer the opportunity to reinforce NATO's public interest in dealing with what has been, so far, at least, a clergy unwilling to step down squarely on one side or the other of the conflict. The plan can move lots of Afghan boys with lots of free time off the streets where they can be recruited by the bad guys. Finally, it can emulate in the Afghan theater the "cash for peace" idea that underpinned the taming of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. By the way, if all those reasons aren't enough to make it interesting, money wise, this baby can deliver good results at a bargain basement price!

So, exactly what kind of a hare-brained MeanMesa scheme could possibly deliver all these positive outcomes?


Solve the illiteracy problem.

Here's the plan.

Since the warlords are effectively in charge of most of the country beyond Kabul and a few blocks of Kandahar, enlist their cooperation. Tell them that NATO finds it necessary to bring members of the security forces up to a point of rudimentary education -- emphasizing literacy -- in order to build the Afghan army and police.

The approach to this will begin with local warlords selecting sites -- always subject to NATO military approval for having workable security possibilities -- where either new buildings can be constructed or existing buildings can be modernized into suitable schools. These would be schools along the lines of what Junior Colleges are like in the US. In fact, there would be schools similar to Junior Colleges in cities without much money and built in bad neighborhoods. There are plenty of examples.

Not all of these schools would be created in Kabul. either. The Western provinces would be even better, remote locations. Those areas are already under European NATO occupation, that is, they are controlled by soldiers from governments which are pretty "gun shy" about having their occupation forces involved in a shooting war of the likes of Helmund.

This distribution of facilities would spread the wealth to areas of Afghanistan which are essentially pacified, but which receive only a smattering of the immense War on Terror money which usually has trouble getting past the outskirts of Karzai's capital. It's also possible that schools in these more uncontested areas would have fewer security problems, that is, Taliban attacks. Students from less well controlled occupation areas could be sent to distant schools when necessary.

A NATO officer would be placed in charge of each project, and a contingent of NATO military forces under his command would move in to permanently billet at each site. These foreign soldiers would be responsible for the construction of the buildings, the operation of the school and the on-going security. Each school site would house all the students, teachers and assigned military in one place. Each school would have an Afghan head master and faculty, and be named in honor of the local "boss."

The construction of the schools -- and the resources to complete the job -- would fall to USAID or the NATO equivalent. There would be no architects, Requests for Proposals, Code Compliance difficulties or even contractors. The military officer responsible for the school would make all the decisions regarding the preparation of the facility. Hey. This is what "occupation" means!

Time would be of the essence. The first twenty or so schools, probably in the Western Provinces, should be in full operation within months of initiating the program. When the officer responsible was convinced that he had a workable project, required materials would be transported to the site through military channels. The construction would be completed by future students under military leadership. Sponsoring NATO countries could compete to see which Army was best at building schools on time and on budget. Any buildings made for this purpose should be able to fill other local needs -- or remain as schools of some sort -- after this program has run its course.

The class schedule would be extremely simple, that is, very abbreviated when compared to the Junior College model. To graduate from these schools a student must be able to read and write Pashto, the official national language of Afghanistan along with, if possible, a smattering of Pahlawi, Persian Dari and some Farsi. see: Pahlawi/Farsi/Dari

Graduates should be able to perform fundamental arithmetic, read maps, fill out police reports, correspond with commanding officers in writing and so on. Because very few women will be required in the new Afghan security system, schools for them could be placed in locations where their presence would not be provocative. Afghan students who demonstrated a promising prospect for learning more could be provided with additional schooling under the same program.

To mollify the clerics, there would be no religious education, but there could be appropriate religious opportunities included in living conditions at each school. However, a final condition of graduation from these schools would be completion of classes in fundamental Afghan civics, Constitution and law

Acceptance of an Afghan youth to enter one of the schools would require his enlistment into the Afghan Security Services or the Afghan National Police. Once accepted, each student would receive a monthly stipend (hence the similarity to the "cash lubricated" Sunni Awakening), which he would probably send home to his family. The cost of keeping a young Afghan man in a subsidized school, fixing his teeth, hiring his teachers, buying his books, paying to heat the place and so on, would amount to a fraction of the cost of killing one.

By the time an Afghan graduated from this short education, his value to the Afghan military or police would be much greater than that of the fellows taken right from the fields, the situation most often the case now. For the warlord, the prospect of having, after the completion of their enlistment terms, drug dealers who could read and write might be appealing.

While the schools were operating, the military assigned to the project would be in charge of all discipline, procurement, educational results and security. When the students were not in reading and writing classes, a beginning course of military or police training could fill the other half of their day.

An estimate of the total time from introduction (enlistment) to graduation would be somewhere around four months. Such a schedule would mean that recruits from an educated cadre could begin entering the Security Services in less than a year from the start of school construction.

The other positive outcome would be the penetration of the responsible military contingent into the local community. Because they would be a small, permanent complement of combat soldiers, military engineers and trainers, the addition of civilians with necessary expertise would not be too difficult. The suppression of corruption and the detection and removal of Taliban sympathizers from the faculty and students would fall to the officer in charge of a specific school project.

Let's get going -- time's a wasting. It will be just like Community Organizing except with guns.

1 comment:

  1. I recently wrote an article on the challenge of training illiterate Afghans in their Army and Police. It's a tough job when it's show and tell through an interpreter. Here's a link to my article-

    I hope you find it informative

    Semper Fi
    Col Gregory T. Breazile, USMC