Monday, April 04, 2011

Afghanistan turning point?

People die violently in Afghanistan all the time. After all, there has been war of one sort or another there pretty much since 1979. But last week's attack on a UN compound that left seven dead foreigners, three aid workers and four Nepalese guards, added a new dimension.

Afghans chant anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration Friday in Mazar-e-Sharif, where a mob overran a UN compound and killed seven international staffers. The northern city was to host one of the first formal handovers of security to the Afghans in July. Photograph by: Reuters, Ottawa Citizen

The protest began in response to the burning of a Qur'an by a publicity-seeking Florida religious extremist. Muslims cherish their holy book as the present word of God. Una Moore, an international development professional, responded to news of this mob action.

This attack is different.
Kabul, Afghanistan – Foreigners have been killed in Afghanistan before, and today’s attack was not the first fatal attack on UN staff. But it was different than previous fatal attacks. Very different. The killers were ordinary residents of a city deemed peaceful enough to be one of the first places transferred to the control of Afghan security forces. The men who broke into the UN compound, set fires and killed eight [revised to seven] people weren’t Taliban, or henchmen of a brutal warlord, or members of a criminal gang. They weren’t even armed when the protests began -- they took weapons from the UN guards who were their first victims.

Foreigners committed to assisting in the rebuilding of Afghanistan have long accepted the possibility that they might die at the hands of warring parties, but this degree of violence from ordinary citizens is not something most of us factored into our decision to work here.

... This is not the beginning of the end for the international community in Afghanistan. This is the end. Terry Jones [the Florida "pastor"] and others will continue to pull anti-Islam stunts and opportunistic extremists here will use those actions to incite attacks against foreigners. Unless we, the internationals, want our guards to fire on unarmed protesters from now on, the day has come for us to leave Afghanistan.

The security guards were under orders not to fire on demonstrators but were killed just the same.

The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has rushed to condemn the Florida Qur'an burning as "hateful," "intolerant," and "extremely disrespectful." But it is hard not to see the assault on the UN compound and subsequent demonstrations across the country during which more people have died over the weekend, as indicative of what Moore flagged: this may be the moment when ordinary Afghans who are simply sick of having foreigners overrunning their country, with or without guns, are saying "enough." Sure -- the Florida outrage was the particular trigger, but this kind of comprehensive rejection even of non-governmental foreigners doesn't happen and can't be incited unless rejection of their presence is deep and very widespread.

The United States counter-insurgency project dies if it has to be entirely enforced by U.S. troops and dwindling contingents from NATO allies. There are 30 million Afghans; 150,000 or so troops and some number of hired contractors can't control that population without some cooperation from the locals. But, if after 10 years of killing of "insurgents" and many civilians, the invaders have completely worn out their welcome with most Afghans, the mission has failed. International non-governmental organizations can't send their development staff into such a situation; building up Afghan police and the army becomes impossible. (The Wall Street Journal reports that in Mazar last Friday, Afghan "police guards" were "confused" and "dropped their weapons.") Maybe "insurgents" and/or the Taliban helped inflame the crowds, but nobody can inflame people who are not very ready to catch fire.

Time to get out of this tinder box. The U.S. occupation is not working.

1 comment:

Rain said...

I totally agree. Yes, he burned the Koran and their reaction showed them to be savages but he and those who supported him showed their own savage nature-- why does anybody need to burn someone else's holy book! We cannot make Afghanis want what they don't want and we should accept the truth of what is happening there which I think we'd do if politics (national and world) wasn't at the base of why we are still there. It's very disillusioning but even worst it causes some to lose their chance for life in a cause that is lost. It's as John Kerry said years ago about the last man asked to die for a mistake and unfortunately we are living again.

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