By Rachel Stanley
Rachel is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Rachel below or take a look at the Student Issue Analysts.

I’m a student at Elon University, and former President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan just spoke at fall convocation. His lecture was titled “Insights into the Islamic World”, and he used the opportunity to point out some troubling historical facts that the West likes to forget about. As an International Studies major, his historical references were not new to me, but I thought that they were very important to say. He pointed out that extremists have been able to use the examples like the US leaving Afghanistan after expelling the Soviets without helping to rebuild as a recruitment technique. As he says, even though he is a military man himself, he understands that arms and soldiers cannot be the sole guard against extremism in a society; yes, there may be a need for military, but there should also be a build up of civil society.

The recent natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan are a perfect example of the (perceived?) discrimination in U.S. and Western aid distribution that helps fuels extremists. Did Haiti get more aid than Pakistan for disaster relief? It may be difficult to get an accurate dollar- to-dollar comparison, but perhaps perceptions are more significant than reality here. Even if the amount of humanitarian assistance given to different nations was exactly equal, because of historical events, there is a perception in many poorer countries, particularly non-Western countries, that the U.S. is only truly willing to expend time and money to achieve its own political means through military action with no consequences.

Whether or not we believe this or to what extent should not be a primary concern. The U.S. can utilize its vast resources in a more effective way. Instead of spending billions of dollars on war, what if Western nations and inter-governmental organizations spend some more money on the development of civil society? Yes, this would be a daunting task, an I don’t mean to oversimplify, but we can start somewhere. What if we took, let’s say, 1% of the current cost of the war in Afghanistan and put that money towards schools that would educate boys and girls? That would be approximately $3 billion, give or take. Can you imagine how many schools could be erected in Afghanistan with $3 billion dollars? Greg Mortenson did a great job of popularizing this idea in his books Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be fascinating to see how the support for extremist groups in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan might change if foreign assistance from Western governments was directed to programs that worked on increasing education and employment opportunities, instead of bombs.