Sunday, November 30, 2008

Help Win the War on al Qaeda

Here's what you can do, right now, to help win the war with al Qaeda. Contribute whatever you can to the Central Asia Institute ( This is an extraordinarily effective organization that builds schools, mostly for girls, in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here's why this is critical to the war on al Qaeda and their allies, the Taliban:

Al Qaeda is dependent on the Taliban for survival. 'Talib' means 'student.' The Taliban get most of their personnel from radical, fundamentalist madrassas (a madrassa is an Islamic school). The people of the remote regions where al Qaeda and the Taliban are strong live in grinding poverty the poorest American can hardly imagine. These people are as intelligent as anyone, they know that education is critical for their children to live a better life. The Saudis provide the money for wahhabi madrassas (wahhabi is a radical, fundamentalist form of Islam) and the people send their children as there is nothing better available.

Enter Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (CAI). As chronicled in Three Cups of Tea, Greg stumbled into a remote mountain village in Pakistan after a failed attempt to climb K2. Greg was lost, in terrible shape and almost died. The villagers nursed him back to health. He asked them what they really needed and they answered "a school." Their children were studying in the open in one of the coldest places on earth, scratching their multiplication tables in the dirt. A few years later, Greg came back with building materials, the village supplied land and labor, and the school was built (1). Since then, Greg and the CAI has helped build dozens of schools in the most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with other projects.

The Central Asia Institute was created to fund and expand Greg's work. Greg knows the languages and cultures of the mountain people and has made the personal contacts critical to success in tribal societies. He has learned how to work with locals to deliver the projects they choose -- usually schools, especially for girls -- at incredibly low cost. For example, a primary school might cost $20,000. The costs are low because the locals donate the land, provide most of the labor, and work closely with the CAI to choose the projects. All projects must gain the blessing of the local government and religious leaders before going forward.

While our government was busy recruiting for al Qaeda by blowing up the wrong people and invading the wrong countries, the CAI was creating allies on the ground by helping villages get what they desire above all else: a good education for their children. Just one example of the depths of that desire: when the trucks carrying building materials for one project were stopped dead by a landslide many miles short, the village men carried all of the materials on their backs, by foot to the village. These are people we can be proud to serve.

Help them. Help ourselves. Contribute today.


(1) The story is actually a little more complex. Read the book. It's excellent.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To My Indian Friends

I'm sending this to all the Indians who've been kind enough to give me their email address over the years. You might find it valuable.

I want to extend my most heart-felt sympathies to you and all the people of India over the despicable attacks in Mumbai. Just as you stood with us after 9/11, I stand with you today and I'm confident the rest of the American people do as well.

I also want to warn you not to make the same mistakes we made. The strategic purpose of attacks like these is often to provoke an over-reaction that alienates potential terrorist supporters and thus strengthen the attackers (1). This is exactly what happened when 9/11 provoked the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- al Qaeda grew stronger. Five years on we are only now beginning to recover from that disastrous mistake.

It is likely that the attackers are associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Pakistani army is putting a lot of pressure on al Qaeda in the tribal areas. This attack is probably intended to increase tensions between India and Pakistan, ideally creating a shooting war. Then Pakistan will remove its troops from the tribal areas and send them to fight India; relieving the pressure.

President-elect Obama has pointed out that the way to win is to resolve the Kashmir problem. The Pakistani army is plenty strong enough to destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, that army is trained and deployed to fight wars with India. Resolving the Kashmir problem and negotiating a permanent peace would free up Pakistani troops to regain control of their country.

While parts of the Pakistani military and ISI (2) support the Taliban and other religious extremists, the bulk of the people and the government see them as a terrible threat, particularly as the suicide attacks and instability grow. Also, the Taliban have taken considerable Pakistani territory in recent months and there is a growing awareness that Pakistan must destroy these guys. We need an alliance of America, India, peace-loving Pakistanis (the vast majority), and others to demolish these extremists. United we are invincible, divided we will fall.

The immediate reaction to the Mumbai attacks will likely be a desire for revenge and the most convenient target may be Pakistan. This would be a disaster, and would lead to even greater danger to India as the extremists grow strong. Don't do what we did. Don't lash out in the wrong direction. Don't fight for revenge. Fight to win.


(1) The is one of the lessons of the U.S. Army - Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

(2) The ISI is the Pakistani intelligence service.