"While classmates bent over their textbooks, Fatima Batool brushed her dupati (head scarf) away from her face so she could look me in the eye. 'I've heard some people say Americans may be bad. But we love Americans,' Fatima said. 'They are the most kind people for us. They are the only ones who cared to help us.'
"At another school, in the nearby Braldu Valley, I encountered a more ominous sentiment. 'The time for poetry and arithmetic is past,' read the graffiti scrawled along the walls of the school playground. 'Nowadays, my brothers, take your lessons from the AK-47 and the rocket-propelled grenade.'"
In an opinion piece in Sunday's Oregonian newspaper titled "Message to Obama: Send a Surge of Hope," writer David Oliver Relin lays out a three-point plan for dealing with the troubled region along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Author of the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time,Relin has traveled extensively in the region and interviewed the people who are directly affected by the conflict there.
Relin says that after President Obama is sworn in he will have a window of opportunity to set sweeping policies that will alter the dynamics of a situation that is spiraling out of control:
- Focus on the big picture: Defuse tensions between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan can instead target the extremists on its western border.
- Extinguish the opium trade that is financing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
- Send a surge of hope: Rebuild our relationship with the moderate majority in Pakistan and Afghanistan with a massive infusion of humanitarian aid aimed at economic reconstruction, agricultural infrastructure and improving people's lives.
Photo by David Oliver Relin.