THE US Army's combination of development with counterinsurgency in
Afghanistan is admirable in all but one regard: We're building mosques
and madrassas, too.
When it comes to building roads, bridges, dams, schools and clinics in the 14 eastern Afghan provinces under de facto
US Army protection, our military has done far more than any charity,
the US Agency for International Development or the Afghan government.
In Khost Province, the model for US counterinsurgency, we built 50 schools last year alone and
broken ground on a 200-bed hospital. But we've also finished four
mosques, with four more in the works, plus three madrassas, with plans
for one in every district (typically areas of 60,000-120,000 people).
The Army is building mosques and madrassas with good intentions. But it's far too likely to backfire in the long run.
The case for it? Well, in rural communities in this part of the
world, the mosque is an all-purpose community center, bar and coffee
house rolled into one. And our longer-term plan for helping Afghanistan
advance involves fostering a robust civil society - Afghans don't
cooperate in units larger than the family or tribe.
Mosque-building also associates the US presence with the national
faith. We mainly build mosques near the district centers or county
seats; US troops usually live in barracks in the same compounds. The
Army hopes mullahs will be more apt to preach cooperation with the
people who built their mosque - but it's not clear that the military
has any way of monitoring what's preached.
Building madrassas, meanwhile, gives Afghan authorities some
control over what's taught to those students. Across the border in
Pakistan, anything goes. On the other hand (as one senior officer told
me), a better idea might be for us to infiltrate those Pakistani
The US-built, Afghan government-registered madrassas also are
supposed to devote 40 percent of teaching to secular subjects,
preparing graduates to work or get higher education. The typical
private madrassa is all Koran, all the time.
And the real goal is to make them all obsolete. Until '06
or '07, many districts in eastern Afghanistan didn't even have schools;
the US Army is building them now. Our long-term hope is that madrassa
education will wither away as secular schooling gains ground.
Finally, as Khost Gov. Arsala Jamal says, "We have to prove to our
people that neither the Afghan government nor the Coalition Forces are
against Islam but rather we the Afghan government are supporting Islam.
If we do not touch the religion, the enemy will use it against us."