Saturday witnessed a second wave of demonstrations against the threats by small American fundamentalist churches (especially the Dove Outreach group of some 50 in Gainesville, Fl.), to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, on September 11. News that the planned bonfire of the scripture had been called off did not reach the provinces in time to avert the rallies, which were sparked in part by Taliban pamphleteering against the US.
But it seems clear to me in any case that the threat of Quran-burning by a few dozen kooks in the US is only a pretext for these demonstrations, which inevitably are actually about the grievances of Afghans under foreign military occupation. That is why the story of the plans for burning the Quran has brought people into the streets in Aghanistan to protest in impressive numbers (in contrast to most other parts of the Muslim world, where there were no similarly-sized rallies).
The largest demonstration on Saturday was held in Pul-i Alam, the capital of Logar province south of the national capital of Kabul. (For basic information about Logar, see this pdf file). Pajhwok News Agency reports that some 10,000 demonstrators assembled in the streets of Pul-i Alam. Protesters burned tires in the streets and sometimes torched shops. At one point the crowd, enraged, began moving toward the governor’s mansion, and local police dispersed them, apparently by firing above their heads. The demonstrators briefly cut the road south linking the city to Pakistan. (Given that Pul-i Alam’s population is only about 88,000, I find the 10,000 figure hard to credit unless the demonstration was planned out by the Taliban and protesters were bused in from the rural areas.) Logar, with a population of around 320,000, is about 2/3s Pushtun, with the rest being speakers of Dari Persian, whether Sunni Tajiks or Shiite Hazaras.
Pajhwok maintains that in the Afghania Pass region of the Nejrab district in Kapisa Province just northeast of Kabul, some 6,000 protesters, including women, gathered from that and surrounding districts. They chanted anti-American and anti-Israel phrases. The agency interviewed a member of the provincial council from Afghania Pass, Haji Lutfullah Zakiri. He said that were the Quran to be desecrated by Americans, a large number of young men were ready to turn suicide bombers. He suggested that French NATO troops in the province of Kapisa would likely be assaulted first of all. (Again, 6,000 sounds to me like a large number to meet in a remote place).
A third rally was held in the central Parwan Province, in Koh-i Safi district, according to Pajhwok. About 1,500 people shouted “Death to America and Death to Israel.” The demonstrators released an ultimatum aimed at the United States, pledging a jihad or war against the United States if the Quran were defiled. Their resolution also threatened to set Americans ablaze in revenge for the burning of the Muslim scripture. Also just north of Kabul, Parwan is largely Tajik (Sunni Persian-speakers) and its residents fought the Taliban tooth and nail in the 1990s. My guess is that the small demonstration and threats were generated mainly by the Pashtuns, an ethnic minority in Parwan.
AFP reports in Arabic on 3 demonstrations in the northern Badakhshan Province. In the provincial capital of Faizabad, about 600 demonstrators gathered. in the afternoon briefly. Another small demonstration of just a few hundred was held in a rural district of that province.
The rallies come on the heels of large demonstrations launched after Friday prayers against the US in some 13 Afghan cities. The clashes left ten or eleven persons wounded, some of them taking police fire after radicals started throwing stones at the police. Some reports speak of one person having died.. Four policemen were wounded in the clashes.