Eight months after the start of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, foreign policy experts are stressing the importance of education and the establishment of good schools in the region to win the war on terrorism in the long term. But, they say that without stability in South and Central Asia, including along the India-Pakistan border, these plans could be severely derailed. The comments were made at a forum organized by the Institute of Peace.

William Milam, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan who recently worked on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, says the vacuum of educational programs is one of the key elements in the establishment of Islamic terror cells.

"Many of the problems that we see, of extremism, religiosity and so forth come from a lack of basic education," he said. "In my own view, we should have been concentrating on that for the last 30 years but our relationships have been so up and down that I don't know if we could concentrate on anything."

Tariq Karim, until recently the Bangladeshi ambassador in the United States, agrees. "I think building up Afghan society from the bottom up will probably be the most important thing and education is the key," he said. "And education not just of men but education more importantly of women.

To achieve this goal, Joseph Presel, a former U.S. ambassador in Central Asia (Uzbekistan), emphasizes that U.S. forces must stay on the ground in Afghanistan for the long haul. "If we're going to get involved in this part of the world, let's stay involved in this part of the world for a while," he said. "One of the worst things we can do is get ourselves involved in Central Asia, big time through Afghanistan, and then decide that we no longer care. This would be a great shame I think in the long term for us. It would certainly be a great shame long term for what we're trying to do in Afghanistan."

Experts stressed that the Bush administration must also work to prevent a wider conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. They said that if India attacks Pakistan, Islamabad's cooperation in pursuing al-Qaida terrorist fighters might end.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic terrorists in disputed Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.