The narratives on U.S. development aid to Pakistan—as well as Pakistan’s own development policy discussion—frequently invoke the conventional wisdom that more education and better economic opportunities result in lower extremism. In the debate surrounding the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill in 2009, for instance, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke urged Congress to “target the economic and social roots of extremism in western Pakistan with more economic aid.”
But evidence across various contexts, including in Pakistan, has not supported this notion (see Alan Kreuger’s What Makes a Terrorist for a good overview of this evidence). We know that many terrorists are educated. And lack of education and economic opportunities do not appear to drive support for terrorism and terrorist groups. I have argued that we need to focus on the quality and content of the educational curricula—in Pakistan’s case, they are rife with biases and intolerance, and designed to foster an exclusionary identity—to understand the relationship between education and attitudes toward extremism.
My latest analysis with data from the March 2013 Pew Global Attitudes poll conducted in Pakistan sheds new light on the relationship between years of education and Pakistanis’ views of the Taliban, and lends supports to the conventional wisdom.
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