It appears that the foundation for an Afghan spring on the lines of the Arab Spring has been laid. For the first time since the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan and occupied the country in October 2011, the Afghans have united to show their resentment at the presence of US troops because they are angry the Americans have disrespected their holy book.
The Pashtuns in the south, the Shiites in the East and the Tajiks and the Uzbeks in the north forgot their differences and took to the street to express their anger at the burning of the Quran at the Bagram airbase. What began as a protest against the burning of the Quran soon became a protest against the occupation. Enough is enough; it is time for the Americans and their NATO troops to leave, cried the people aloud at the protests that continued for a week all over the country.
The burnt copies of the Quran were found by Afghan cleaners at a dump inside the notorious Bagram airbase where it is alleged the US troops have committed war crimes, ranging from torture to murder. The cleaners were furious because, for a Muslim, the Quran is — vowel for vowel, consonant for consonant and word for word — the word of God. They believe that it remains the same even today as it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad over a period of 23 years 14 centuries ago.
The US military admitted that its officers at the Bagram detention centre had burned the copies because they believed the detainees made use of the holy book to share messages. This was not the first time the US military men had shown disrespect towards the Quran. It is alleged that copies of the Quran were shredded and flushed down the toilet as a part of the psychological torture at the United States' gulag prisons at Guantanamo Bay.
The news of the discovery of the burnt copies of the Quran spread like wildfire and sparked countrywide protests.
Joining in the protests were not only the ordinary Afghans but also members of the security forces whom NATO has trained. The mutiny must act as a chilling reminder to the US that the time has come to leave Afghanistan.
A Washington Post story headlined "In Kabul Afghan police sympathize with protesters angry over Koran burning" quoted a police officer who had been asked to quell the protests as saying, "Afghans and the world's Muslims should rise against the foreigners. We have no patience left." His colleague went one step further. He had no qualms about telling the Washington Post journalist Kevin Sieff, "We both will attack the foreign military people."
Sieff said he interviewed police officers at four checkpoints in the Afghan capital and all expressed similar anti-American sentiments.
The situation is so bad that foreign troops — the so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) — do not know whether the bullet will come from the Taliban or from the Afghan security forces they work with. Accentuating the worsening situation was last Saturday's killing of two US soldiers at the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul. The two US officers had added fuel to the fire by mocking the Quran during an argument with an Afghan Intelligence Officer at the ministry's command and control centre. The Afghan officer, identified as 25-year-old Abdul Saboor, took his gun and fired eight rounds at them, killing both on the spot. He then walked out of the heavily guarded ministry. No one tried to stop him. The incident indicated a growing reality. The Americans are no longer welcome — not even by the armed forces whom they have trained. Four other American soldiers were also killed by protesters elsewhere; two of them yesterday.
Last Saturday's shooting was not an isolated incident. Afghan security personnel turning their guns on foreign troops is becoming increasingly common. In January, an Afghan soldier, incensed by a video clip that showed US marines urinating on corpses of Afghan men, shot and killed four French soldiers. The French are now said to be angry with the Americans because they had to pay for a crime that the Americans had committed.
The killings of the French soldiers and last Saturday's Interior Ministry shooting have prompted the US, France and Germany to withdraw their nationals, including soldiers, from all Afghan ministries.
Their action indicates that the foreign troops will be leaving even before the December 2014 deadline set by US President Barack Obama. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said French troops would come home before the end of next year. British Prime Minister David Cameron has also indicated that he favours a phased-out troop withdrawal.
Probably fearing that the protests over the Quran burning will turn into an Afghan Spring that will lead to a humiliating troop withdrawal, Obama extended an unconditional apology to the Afghan people in a letter to President Karzai. The apology, however, drew condemnation from his Republican opponents who ridiculed him as "Mr. Sorry".
"He (Obama) is consistently apologising to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States, period," said Newt Gingrich.
Sen. Rick Santorum in his protest said, "this was a mistake and there was no deliberate act….there was no act that needed an apology." Mitt Romney also held a similar view.
The Republican candidates' racist remarks make them one with those Marines who burned the Quran, who urinated on Afghan corpses, who cut the fingers of dead Afghan militants for war trophies and who committed war crimes at the Bagram airbase.
Petty Republican politics apart, the United States' Afghan policy is in tatters. If the Iraq war was George W. Bush's war, Afghanistan is Obama's war, though it was started by Bush. This is because Obama got himself elected to office on a promise that he would end the Iraq war and concentrate on the Afghan war.
Obama wants to draw down troops but the 2014 deadline is conditional on the Kabul regime's ability to govern the country on its own. To bring the entire country under Karzai's control and subdue the Taliban is as huge a task for him as turning heroin, the country's main foreign exchange earner, into poppies. This is because his writ does not extend beyond Kabul.
Given this ground reality, Obama faces a dilemma. If he pushes back the deadline, he will be only strengthening the resistance. If he keeps his promise and brings troops home by 2014, it is only a matter of time before the Taliban conquer the capital. Either way the US loses. It is against this backdrop, that the US is holding secret talks with the Taliban. A face-saving exit is probably what the US is negotiating with them.