Aid agencies’ involvement in education have often been touted as commendable and a noble cause but when we take a closer look at the motives behind aid we can see its complex implications and its consequences. USAID’s involvement in Afghanistan was minimal in 1950’s, and it was mostly to help build infrastructure such as dams. The shift came in the 1980’s after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. After that billions of dollars were used by USAID and other agencies to continue the cold war efforts in various forms of aid such as schooling Afghan children.
Between 1979-1989, CIA and the US government funded USAID with millions of dollars to hire the University of Nebraska’s Center for Afghanistan Studies (CAS) to design a propaganda campaign to to instill the “spirit of jihad into the hearts and minds of Afghan children and teenagers alike.” This was done through the primary and middle school curricula and books printed in both Dari and Pashto and implemented in the refugee camps mostly in Pakistan and some in Iran. Over fifteen million textbooks along with madrasahs that taught extremist views, and some basic elements such as tents for shelter and food were provided by USAID and other aid agencies (Abbas, 2010).
With funding from USAID, and design by the CIA, centers were established with offices in Pakistan “to train and educate Afghan refugees, who had formed seven mujahedeen resistance groups…against the soviet occupation” (Williams, 2008). Some of the examples of the books distributed by USAID clearly show the US policy agenda: “If out of 10 atheists, 5 are killed by 1 Muslim, 5 would be left. 5 guns + 5 guns = 10 guns; 15 bullets – 10 bullets = 5 bullets, etc.” (Stephens and Ottoway, 2002). These books educated generations of Afghan refugee children to know nothing but war and violence.
This strategy to fight the cold war by the US government, translated by USAID as education, did not take into consideration the interest of the children who were receiving this aid. Stephen and Ottoway state “children were taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and land mines…at the time it also suited U.S. interests to stoke hatred of foreign invaders.” According to Kolhatkar and Ingalls (2006), Thomas Goutierre, who served as the head of Afghanistan Center at the University of Nebraska was not at all apologetic for promoting the US anti-Soviet propaganda through violent content in elementary school education to Afghan children. He stated “I was interested in being of any type of assistance that I could to help the Afghans get out of their mess and to be frank also anything that would help the United States in order to advance its interests” (Kolhatkar and Ingalls, 2006). This clearly shows that educating the Afghan children was not a priority, but rather serving the US agenda was the primary goal of USAID.
Politicizing aid has had grave consequences for the Afghan people. USAID and the University of Nebraska’s cynical and immoral militarization of education was a direct factor in indoctrinating a new generation of fanatical terrorists. They looked for help and we gave them hate instead, because it served our purposes—or more importantly, because someone profited.