In the late 1970s, Afghanistan went through a period of political upheaval – exacerbated by the global chess game being played between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War.
In 1975, a group of militants from the Jamiat Islami party attempted to overthrow the government. Though the attempt was unsuccessful, support for the Islamist party continued to grow.
In April of 1978, Mir Akbar Khyber – a well-known Afghan intellectual and leader of a major faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the ruling party at the time) – was assassinated at his home.
The government blamed his assassination on Islamist factions within the country, but Nur Muhammad Taraki – a notable communist politician – accused the Afghan government of carrying out the assassination themselves.
Using Kyhber’s death as a rallying cry, Taraki was able to lead a successful revolution, after which he established the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Taraki’s new regime was a repressive one – tens of thousands of prisoners and political dissidents were “disappeared” (most likely executed) during his first year in power, prompting large swaths of the country to go into open rebellion against the new government.
As the pressure built, Taraki reached out to the Soviet Union for help. In December of 1979, the Soviet Army answered that call, sending Soviet troops into Afghanistan to help support Taraki’s regime.
Fearing the spread of communism into the Middle East, the United States, along with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries, decided to back a coalition of multi-national insurgent groups called the Mujahideen.
The Mujahideen – comprised of Muslim fighters from Pakistan, Iran and other Islamic nations – was the main group fighting against the Soviet-backed Afghan forces.
For 10 years, the Mujahideen waged a successful guerilla campaign that proved extremely costly for the Soviet Union, both financially and in terms of human life. Finally, in February of 1989, Soviet forces pulled out of Afghanistan.
Throughout the war’s duration, the US provided training, intel and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the Mujahideen under Operation Cyclone.
The operation was one of the longest and most costly covert CIA operations in US history. Cyclone’s budget started at $20-30 million in 1980, and rose as high as $630 million in 1987.
But while the CIA was spending vast sums supporting the Mujahideen directly, the United States government decided that it needed to be fighting the influence of communism in another arena as well: education.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the United States commissioned a series of textbooks that promoted violence in the form of jihad against the Soviet invaders.
One notable example is “The Alphabet of Jihad Literacy”, a textbook funded by the US and published by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. From Al-Jazeera:
The majority of the book’s 41 lessons glorify violence in the name of religion. “My uncle has a gun,” reads the entry for the letter T, using the Pashto word for “gun,” “topak.” “He does jihad with the gun.”
The entry for the letter K reads,
“Kabul is the capital of our dear country. No one can invade our country. Only Muslim Afghans can rule over this country.”
“Our religion is Islam. Muhammad is our leader. All the Russians and infidels are our enemy,”
reads another section.
With the help of the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) distributed “The Alphabet of Jihad Literacy” and other textbooks containing content written by Mujahideen groups to children at refugee camps in Pakistan during the decade-long Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The revelations were made by New York University professor Dana Burde in her newly published book entitled “Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan“. As part of her research, Burde spent more than a decade in Afghanistan and Pakistan, studying the education systems in the two countries.
While US efforts were eventually successful in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan, Burde says the pro-jihadist textbooks have spawned countless copies and revised editions, some of which are still being used by the Taliban to indoctrinate young children today.
Only now, the “infidels” referenced in the textbooks undoubtedly include the United States.
Burde says the books are easily repurposed to vilify the US and NATO forces. In fact, during the course of her research, she discovered that the Taliban actually insist that the books be used in schools located in areas that they control.
In recent years however, US education funding in Afghanistan has been aimed primarily at increasing stability in Afghan communities and legitimizing the NATO-backed central government in Kabul.
Since the fall of the Taliban, the US has invested more than $880 million on education in Afghanistan. But despite its honorable purposes, Burde believes this funding may have actually increased division and animosity within the country.
According to her research, the majority of this recent education funding has been spent in Pashtun areas at the heart of the insurgency, ignoring Afghanis living in more peaceful parts of the country.
Burde believes that this uneven distribution of aid has led to increased resentment towards foreigners and the central government in Kabul, saying,
“If people perceive that their enemy is getting more of those services, then that could contribute to the underlying conditions for conflict.”
Foreign intervention is a risky and delicate process. Many people believe that investing in the development and education of a country will automatically lead to increased peace, but the reality can be quite the opposite if that investment isn’t spent in the right way.
Burde’s revelations also illustrate how short-term solutions can often contribute to bigger, more long-term problems: the United States is currently fighting against a radical jihadist ideology that it helped to indoctrinate with its textbook initiative just a few decades ago.
Read the original report from Al-Jazeera.