What Do the Taliban and Our Youth Have in Common?

Both groups are alienated, marginalized and need a second chance to come home.

Getty Images
Getty Images

For those checking in on the conflict in Afghanistan, the latest buzzword on the war isn’t “surge” any longer, it’s “population-centric.” Despite the recent civilian fatalities of Operation Moshtarak, U.S. officials continue to emphasize a strategy of reduced combat and increased reconciliation with the Afghan community. This includes supporting President Hamid Karzai’s overarching plan to curb insurgency by reaching out to Afghanistan’s “disenchanted brothers.” Previously ineffective strategies for stemming violence—killing and capturing “the enemy”—have been replaced with a more inclusive approach: reintegration.

In the United States, where disenchantment and violence in some areas can be just as easy to come by, reintegration strategies are also gaining traction.  

With endorsement from the Obama administration, Karzai’s reintegration program, announced last month, has received promises of funding from Japan and Britain, among others. Collectively, these donor countries have pledged some $140 million to recruit low-level Taliban from the battlefield with promises of employment, cash and community-development opportunities.

They’ve used similar programs in countries like Nepal and Liberia. Though success is not guaranteed, this innovative approach to violence offers marginalized citizens in conflict-ridden communities a chance to regain their social footing without bearing arms. In Afghanistan, reintegration has been touted as “an economic alternative to those who have none.”  

Some American youth could soon benefit from similar strategies. Around the time Karzai was announcing his plans, the Chicago Urban League (CUL), in partnership with the Alternative Schools Network, released a report on the declining rates of teen employment in Illinois and across the United States since 2000.

The picture it paints is extremely bleak,” says David Thigpen, policy expert for the Chicago Urban League. “We’ve seen an upsurge of youth violence in the last year, and we think it’s no accident that youth unemployment numbers are so high. Also, the youth dropout rate in Chicago is extremely high—nearly 50 percent. So this is creating a large mass of teens who have nothing to do and who have no options.” 

Sound familiar?