Over the past several days, protests in Afghanistan reportedly stemming from threats to burn copies of the Koran in the US have met with armed police reactions which have resulted in injuries and at least four deaths. In the latest protest (Sept 15), Reuters reports that "thousands" of Afghans gathered in Kabul to denounce the United States and that such demonstrations are putting the upcoming Afghan elections in jeopardy.
Here I will look back on recent Afghan protests against the western-led occupation of that country, where it would appear that protesters' tactics have escalated. We saw last month that a spontaneous demonstration against American security contractors saw the crowd set fire to a couple of Dyncorp vehicles. One August protest went well beyond that, aiming to burn down a NATO base.
In late August, an incident in Afghanistan's northern province of Baghlan sparked a riot which targeted the Spanish-run NATO contingent there.
The trigger for the riot was an attack on Spanish troops by an apparent Afghan infiltrator. On August 25, an Afghan driver working for an Afghan police officer shot and killed three Spanish nationals (two police trainers and one Iranian-born translator). The attacker had been working for an Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) officer who was being trained by Spanish Civil Guard officers stationed in Qala-E Naw, the capital of Badghis province in Afghanistan's north. Reports emerged soon after that the Afghan attacker had relatives in the insurgency while Spain's El Pais noted that the same is true of most Afghans. However, some reports said the man had been picked up several times in the past on suspicion of being an insurgent. Others said he had even declared beforehand that he would attack the foreigners.
The attack is the latest in a spate of infiltration-style attacks on foreign forces in the country, so it is not so unusual. What distinguishes this attack is the riot which followed.
More from Reuters:
[According to Badghis governor Dilbar Jan Arman] at least 1,000 protesters tried to storm the base, which lies near the border with Turkmenistan.
Residents however said thousands of protesters had set fire to one part of the base.
One protester, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said there were also casualties among the protesters after troops inside the base fired on them. … (link)
The Associated Press reports:
Afghans angry at the driver's death stormed the base in northwestern Badghis province with stones and set fire to at least one vehicle, underscoring the brewing resentment among many Afghans over the presence of foreigners on their soil and the problems in rapidly expanding Afghanistan's security forces. …
When word of the shooting spread, several hundred angry men gathered outside the walls of the Spanish compound, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great, hurling stones and ripping down fences around the installation, Associated Press Television video showed. Gunshots rang out, although it was unclear who was firing.
Provincial health director Abdul Aziz Tariq said 25 people were wounded in the protest, most of them by bullets, with two in critical condition. Seven of those hospitalized were under 18 years old but their wounds were not life threatening, he said.
Police strung barbed wire in the streets to contain the crowd and restored order by mid-afternoon, said provincial government spokesman Sharafuddin Majidi. He said shots had been fired both from and toward the base, but NATO spokesman James P. Judge said there was no indication NATO soldiers had fired. … (link)
Radio Free Europe:
[Radio Free Europe's] correspondent in the area, Sharafuddin Stanakzai, reported that angry demonstrators tried to storm the PRT compound after the initial shooting incident.
He said that demonstrators on the scene said they broke through the compound's outer perimeter and set fire to part of the base.
One witness told RFE/RL that Spanish troops fired on rioters who were storming the base, injuring several of them.
However, Saberi confirmed that hundreds of demonstrators later marched on the provincial government's headquarters in Qalay-e Naw — smashing several windows of the building and forcing local authorities to call for the deployment of troops from the Afghan National Army and national police. … (link)
Javed Hamim Kakar of Pajhwok Afghan News:
Following the incident, hundreds of angry people hurled stones at the ISAF office in Qala-i-Naw, the provincial capital, and smashed its windowpanes. The demonstrators tried to set the office on fire.
The protestors also torched two civilian houses in the city, [deputy governor] Abdul Ghani revealed, saying the demonstrators were prevented from marching towards the governor's office, police headquarters and the intelligence department.
The enraged men threw stones at the policemen, who had to fire into the air to disperse them. At least 21 protestors were wounded, the deputy governor said.Without naming anyone, he alleged elements behind the demonstration wanted to damage government offices and private properties. … (link)
Fences around the base were torn down and fires set. At least one truck was torched. NATO said it was monitoring the demonstration. … (link)
You can see video of the protest following the shoot-out here. It shows male demonstrators young and old throwing paving stones and seems to include the sound of gun fire. In response to the Badghis incident and its aftermath, NATO helicopters moved 150 ANCOP officers to Qal-E Naw, the capital of Badghis.
A couple of earlier protests are of note as well:
US troops fire shots to disperse Afghan protesters
By Rahim Faiez
DATELINE: KABUL, Aug 24 (AP) – U.S. troops fired warning shots to disperse a protest in eastern Afghanistan over the arrest of a religious leader suspected of a rocket attack, NATO said Tuesday.
The alliance said no civilian injuries were reported from the protest Monday, but Gen. Faqir Ahmad, the deputy police chief of Parwan province, said one civilian was killed by shots fired from an unknown source.
NATO said about 300 people surrounded a patrol and attacked vehicles with rocks and iron bars outside the massive coalition air base at Bagram, in Parwan province.
"After several attempts to stop the attack and disperse the crowd, coalition troops received small-arms fire directed at them," NATO said in a news release. Coalition forces then fired the warning shots.
Gen. Ahmad said the only gunfire came from the coalition. He said the shots enraged the crowd, with some then using rocks and sticks to attack police and the head of the district government, Kabir Ahmad, who had tried to calm the situation. The deputy police chief said Ahmad and a police officer had serious but not life-threatening injuries.
The man arrested Monday by Afghan police was a religious teacher suspected of taking part in a rocket attack on a coalition patrol two weeks ago, Gen. Ahmad said. About 50 students from his religious school began the protest, which then attracted up to 2,000 villagers, he said. (link)
The unmistakable Orwellian character of the Afghan government's response to the Parwan protest is of particular interest:
BBC Worldwide Monitoring
Text of report by state-owned National Afghanistan TV on 23 August
[Presenter:] The announcement by the National Directorate of Security's press office on the demonstration by a number of the residents of Bagram District of Parwan Province dated 23 August 2010:
Our compatriots know that it is the National Directorate of Security's responsibility to ensure a peaceful and trusty atmosphere in the country, fight those who carry out terrorist activities that result in the killing of innocent people and tackle any threats against internal and external security in Afghanistan in line with penal law.
The vigilant personnel of the National Directorate of Security arrested Qari Mohammad Kazem son of Mohammad Taher, a resident of the Meyan Shakh area of Parwan Province, on 21 August 2010 on charges of carrying out terrorist activities in this province. He was the head of the Hazrat-e Belal seminary. He confessed to his crime as follows:
… [Mohammad Kazem, talking to camera:] My name is Mohammad Kazem son of Mohammad Taher, resident of the Meyan Shakh village of Parwan Province. I am the head of the Hazrat-e Belal seminary. Nur Agha had encouraged me to carry out such actions. …
[Presenter] Earlier, Shah Mohammad was arrested in relation to this terrorist case. He also confessed to be a member of this terrorist network and wage terrorist attacks.
A limited number of individuals launched a demonstration aimed at abusing the pure sentiments of the residents of the Bagram District. This demonstration was aimed at releasing the arrested terrorists. This demonstration is against the enforced law and steps are taken to arrest the perpetrators and inciter of the move. (no link)
Thus, the Afghan government is declaring the protest described above as illegal and is apparently taking measures against such "inciters" who "abuse the pure sentiments of" Afghans.
Describing yet another protest, AFP reports from the eastern city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan's gateway to Pakistan:
Up to 600 residents blocked the main highway in protest on Wednesday [Aug 18], an AFP reporter on the scene said. They chanted "Death to Americans" and "Death to Karzai," referring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (link)
Finally, an August 16 protest against the construction of an Afghan military base turned ugly when US troops fired on the crowd:
In the east, meanwhile, protesters set upon U.S. troops outside of Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in the country. A number of people were wounded as the demonstration in Pul-e-Sayad village turned into a riot, NATO said.
The crowd of 250 gathered around the American troops to protest the building of an Afghan army base on land owned by local villagers, said Abdullah Adil, an Interior Ministry official who works with NATO forces in the area.
A few villagers had first gone to the construction site in the morning to demand that work be stopped, and when it was not, they returned with more people, he said.
Protesters threw rocks at the troops as they escorted a contractor to the base, NATO said.
The rocks injured some service members and when they couldn't quell the riot, a soldier fired at the crowd in self-defense, NATO said. …
One 12-year-old boy was shot, but his wounds were not life-threatening, Adil said.
Construction has now been halted pending more discussion with the villagers, he said. … (link)