The Pashtun-majority province of Logar just south of Kabul saw further protests on Sunday against American threats of Quran-burning, which turned deadly, leaving two dead and five wounded in Barki Barak district. This according to the Pajhwok News Agency. The crowd, estimated at 1,000, that gathered to protest the desecration of their holy book chanted anti-American slogans. It then turned violent according to police, looting shops in the bazaar and tearing down campaign posters of candidates they disliked. Then they began threatening police outposts, prompting police to open fire. Pajhwok quotes one protester, Muhammad Ishaq, however, who rejected the police charges. He is said to have replied, “It was a peaceful protest, but we were blocked by security personnel.
We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the Koran and Islam.”
In Wardak Province, a Pashtun center of the Muslim fundamentalist insurgency to the southwest of Kabul, hundreds of protesters rallied in the district of Chak. That demonstration remained peaceful, according to Pajhwok.
One fear of Gen. David Petraeus and other US officials in Afghanistan is that video of American Quran-burning will be spread around and looped by the Muslim fundamentalist insurgency seeking to rally ordinary Afghans against the US and NATO troop presence. Cell phones with video capability are in fact controversial in Afghanistan, according to Pajhwok. It says that in Helmand Province, many residents of Lashkargah are demanding that the phones be banned. They say that the Taliban are sending videos of their combat with Western troops, and seeking to recruit young Afghan men through the phones. Likewise, there are fears that photographs carried by a man on his phone of women in his life could fall into the hands of others if he lost the phone, and cause vendettas to break out. Many young men are using the phones to pass around pornography, as well, it is charged.
In the past week, thousands of Afghans have protested American Christian fundamentalist plans to burn the Qur’an in commemoration of the September 11 attacks. There is every reason to believe that the protests have been so widespread in Afghanistan in part because of the upcoming parliamentary elections of September 18 and because of the widespread insurgency against the American and NATO troop presence and the US-backed Karzai government. That is, this is not an essentialist story of Muslims being touchy about their religion but rather has a specific context in Western military dominance of Afghan society.
Pajhwok also reports that many of the protest rallies against American Quran-burning were taken advantage of by political activists, who used them as a cover to rip down all the campaign posters of rival candidates. The agency says that in Nangarhar Province, reports came in from the districts of Dara-yi Nur and Khewi on Saturday that campaign posters were torn down from walls, electricity poles, and trees. A female candidate in Khewi district, Abida Malakzai, confirmed that her posters were removed during the protests. The Independent Electoral Commission insisted that deliberately ripping down campaign posters is illegal in Afghanistan, but Nangarhar police confirmed that the problem is widespread.
The elections in Afghanistan are already plagued with problems, including poorly qualified or vetted candidates, the lack of political parties (which are still banned), attacks on candidates or their families by Taliban, voter intimidation, and the prospect of ballot fraud since the Electoral Complaints Commission is now in President Hamid Karzai’s back pocket.
Many observers fear that contested parliamentary elections marred by open fraud could further erode the legitimacy of the Karzai government and fuel violence and insurgency.