Development & Education

Making bread to fight the Taliban

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Baking bread in Afghanistan(Image by Jonathan Mallard (cc:by-nc-sa))

This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

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The United States is shifting tactics in its war against the Taliban. The focus is moving away from fighting and toward a policy of "reintegration" into the rest of society.

One symbol of this shift lies in a new, $60 million prison facility recently built by NATO. Inside the new prison, inmates aren't simply punished for past crimes. They're also taught new skills, including bread making, meant to build a bridge to civilian life.

"One of the things we wanted them to do is learn as part of their vocational training and bread baking, in the Afghan customary way of baking bread, which is in an tandoor oven, as you see here, wood fire," Colonel Kevin Burke explained.

"The idea of reintegration is that these folks are primarily engaging in the insurgency because of financial opportunities," Christine Fair, professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown, explained, "and that by providing them vocational training and so forth, that they might be discouraged from reentering the insurgency."

It sounds good in theory, but Fair doubts that it will work. "There isn't really solid evidence that this is why folks are joining the insurgency," Fair explained. Much of this theory is based on information from people who have been detained. Fair says, "Only the most profound moron would admit, I'm fighting jihad against you because you are an infidel and this is ideological."

In fact, the Taliban offers not just economic benefit, but societal cache. Fair says that "the fact that you have really achieved notoriety in your field through the meritocracy of Jihad, when there are very few meritocracies in Afghanistan," gives a compelling reason for many people to join the Taliban. She says, "We really can't replace that by teaching them to make bread."

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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