op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Feb 27
Death toll has reached 30 after six consecutive days of demonstrations against the Qur’an burning incident at Bagram. It always starts from Parwan. Last year’s demos were also instigated there, when a local paper recycling factory was attached by residents of the area accusing them to have used sacred texts with verses of Qur’an. Three were dead and several injured.
I am amazed with the amount of ‘analysis’ by ‘Afghanistan experts’ describing the madness of few hundred protesters and opportunists among them as “popular reaction and anger against foreign troops”. Mentioning the paper-recycling factory incident is to say that the demonstrations are not particular show of anger against foreign troops in Afghanistan in general. If it had been any local Mullah involved, there would have been similar reaction. Indeed Afghans are the worst reactionary among people of over 50 Muslim countries when it comes to issues of religious sensitivity. But to say these protests are popular resentment against foreign presence in Afghanistan is ignorance on behalf of some activist international experts, and propaganda when it comes to few particular media outlets in Kabul pursuing the religious agenda of our Western neighbor. Some outlets carried statements and Fatwas by Iranian Ayatullahs about the Qur’an burning.
President Obama, the US commander in Afghanistan General John Alen and many other senior American officials have not only apologized for the ‘unintentional’ burning of Qur’an, but also promised a thorough investigation and punishment for those responsible. Even if a mistake, one wonders why the US military has not learned anything about local cultural and religious sensitivities after a decade? One point the fiery speakers in the protest demonstrations mention is that such regrets have been expressed in the past by US officials, but mistakes repeated. However, there is no proof the burning was intentional. When the hate-monger Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of Quran in Florida last year, President Obama had personally called him to stop, despite the principles of freedom of expression in the US. The madness we are witnessing is not justifiable in any sense. There are opportunists and elements who want to use such incidents for their agendas. I am not suggesting that the protest demonstrations are not spontaneous at all, but there are some who provoke.
Our political and religious leadership have acted very irresponsibly so far. It is shameful.
President Karzai held a press conference yesterday, when already 30 lives were lost during the last six days. He thought it was more important to reiterate his political scoring with demands of prisons to be transferred to Afghan control, including Bagram. What the violence of past week has shown is utter failure of Police to control mobs and the fact that situation can get out of control so easily. It is an alarm for all of us about the worst to come after 2014 when international troops will withdraw from Afghanistan.
President Karzai called the protesters to calm down. He should have asked for this last week when President Obama had apologized to him and Afghans in a letter. The response from ISAF also shows their lack of understanding the graveness of situation, and miscalculation about repercussions of the ‘mistake’. A mere apology cannot help, even if from President Obama. Last year, dozens were killed when Terry Jones in Florida had only threatened to burn Qur’an. They should have realized the situation when pages of burnt copies of Qur’an were shown on Kabul TVs. They could have contacted Karzai’s Ulema Shura—the council of clerics—and offered a sincere apology urging them to intervene and request people for patience. If not directly, they could take different approaches.
The most shameful irresponsibility was shown by the parliament where some MPs actually called for ‘Jihad’ against the US. They were shouting Allah-o-Akbar inside the lower house and chanting slogans like “death to America”. Abdul Sattar Khwasi was prominent among MPs who made the call for Jihad.
Some members of the Senate called people to “continue the violent protest demonstrations”. Hasan Hotak from Zabul was saying there have not been enough deaths, the protests should continue. He was interfering with demands of other senators calling people for restraint. Let me quote his exact words: “the protests should continue for a month. We should infidels that we can defend our religion”. These remarks further provoke violence. Senator Asif Azimi from Samangan was saying: “there should be violence against unethical Americans, who have desecrated the holy book several times. For defending Qur’an, my life has no worth”. What a defense! Killing each other and burning down public property is no defense of religion. People are ignoring the very teachings of Qur’an for which they are protesting. Violence is no response to a mistake, especially when US officials have apologized with assurance that it will not reoccur and those responsible will be punished.
When you see such madness in the parliament, what one could expect from illiterate radical mobs? I am scared of the times to come. Such episodes of violence are interrupted trailers of the situation after 2014.