The reward for information that will lead U.S. or Northern Alliance troops to the hideout of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and other al-Qaida leaders now stands at $25 million. That’s a very large sum of money, however you look at it, whoever you are. In Afghanistan, this is a mountain of cash of Hindu Kush proportions. Twenty-five million dollars would transform a person (or persons) with such information into one of the country’s most important men or women since they would, in all likelihood, instantly become the wealthiest Afghan north of the Durand Line. Such an individual could do whatever they liked for a very long time. They could build themselves a mansion in downtown Kabul, with a second home in the Panjshir Valley—maybe a Palm Springs-style bungalow that will one day be written about by Matt Tynauer for Vanity Fair. They could leave the country for golfing trips whenever they wanted. They also could leave the country for good. They could become a warlord or a warlady. Twenty-five million dollars would purchase quite a few AK-47s, stinger missiles, and a fleet of Toyota pickups to move men and arms around one’s chosen terrain. As far as one can tell, there are no stipulations as to how the reward money must be spent, and besides, how could the United States ensure that the man or woman was spending the money wisely? By handing out the cash in yearly installments?
Yet $25 million may be such a vast sum of money that an Afghan might consider the benefits of such considerable wealth to be an unwanted burden. Like the American lottery winner, such a person might suddenly find themselves with a lot of new “friends” as well as family they never knew existed. Wealth counseling might be required—evidence from the United States suggests that instant riches can be immensely dangerous for one’s mental health—although years of Taliban rule and Soviet occupation has probably drained the country of such experts. In fact, $25 million might simply be just too much because it may pose a threat to that individual’s life. If you’re a multimillionaire in today’s Afghanistan, you probably have no choice but to become a warlord since you’ll need a small army to protect yourself in the middle of the night. So, instead of cash with all its perils, why doesn’t the United States offer another quintessentially American reward: an education. This reward would have the immense of advantage of allowing the individual to become rich (if that is what they desired) and at the same time, and so we would hope, furnish them with ideas of fulfillment and happiness, which as all good American know, just can’t be bought.