By Farooq Sulehria
A Newsweek report in its May 9 issue that interrogators at the
U. S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, had placed copies of
the Koran in bathrooms and flushed one text down a toilet sparked
protests across the Muslim world. Afghanistan, however, protested
most violently and aggressively.
On May 11, a 1000-strong student demo in Jalalabad against the
desecration of Quran, chanting ´Death to America´,
threw stones on a US military convoy. The demo was fired at leaving
four dead and over 70 injured. Soon the protests spread all across
Afghanistan. In four days, the most widespread demonstrations
since 1979 left 15 dead and over 100 injured.
´Last time it was in 1979 on 24th of Hooth (last month
in Afghan calendar) when Afghans rose up against the Russian puppets
and were ruthlessly crushed´, says Sahar Saba. ´This
time it was a US puppet government that Afghan people protested
against´, she adds. Sahar Saba is a spokesperson for Revolutionary
Afghan Women Association (RAWA). Strongly condemning the police
action, she thinks the police action was not merely unjustified
but also an attempt to pass one single message: ´No dissent
will be tolerated´. Aref Afghani shares this point of view
Talking to Internationalen on telephone, Aref Afghani said the
protests were a reaction to US presence as well as Karzai governments
inability to deliver. Secretary of left-wing Afghan Labour Revolutionary
Organisation, Aref Afghani thinks the desecration of Quran was
mere a pretext for demonstration. ´In fact, the demonstrators
were giving vent to their anger at the failure of Karzai government
as well as the US presence´.
The country in the grip of civil war since 1979 has almost lost
its tradition of mass actions and mobilisation. The repression
and successive reigns of terror led to silencing of dissent. Not
that protests or political activity ceased to exist in Afghanistan.
Even under Taliban, protests would erupt. A clandestine political
activity, largely unnoticed by outside world, went on. However,
the level of political activity remained very low owing to repression
and civil war. Afghan masses still fighting for survival in the
face of civil war as well as hunger and disease have been impoverished
to level where translating dissent into organisation and political
activity becomes hard. In this background, the recent wave of
protests in Afghanistan is highly symbolic, important and of course
upsetting for US occupation forces as well as its allies.
Aref Afghani rejects the reports that Taliban were pivotal in
sparking recent wide spread demonstrations. ´Taliban are
isolated having no or very little basis in Jalalabad´, he
Aref Afghani thinks the protest in Jalalabad was organised by
students under Hikmatyar´s political. ´Jalalabad is
a university town some 90 kilometres east of Kabul. Gulbaden Hikmatyar
has an influence among students at Jalalabad University. It was
his supporters initiating the protest. But it became a rallying
point for Afghans across the country. Soon whole of Afghanistan
was engulfed. Not because Hikmatyar is popular. But because Karzai
is unpopular. The US presence is unpopular´.
Gulbaden Hikmatyar, a favourite of Pakistan military intelligence
and having close links to Pakistans Islamic Jamaat, fought
the Soviet armies in 1980s. He lavishly benefited from drug trade
and CIA training. In the post-´communist´ and pre-Taliban
Afghanistan, he madly fought against Northern Alliance for control
over Kabul. For a brief period, major warring factions as prime
minister accepted him. Pakistan during that period, backed him.
Later when Pakistan adopted Taliban, Hikmatyar joined hands with
his enemies. Rich in arms, good at drug trade this ruthless warlord
runs one of the biggest militia and is notorious not merely for
his brutality but for extreme Islamic views as well.
Long before he took up arms against Soviet ´infidels´
and their ´puppets´ in Kabul, he had earned notoriety
as a student leader by throwing acid on girl students at Kabul
university not wearing hijab. Hardened by physical and ideological
battles at university campuses, against the left-wing student
groups, Hikmatyar was close to Pakistans Jamaat Islami (Islamic
Party). Pan-Islamic Jamaat Islami had links across Muslim World
and during anti-Soviet Jihad, Jamaat´s favourites were given
preference over other warlords while distributing weapons and
money. This is how Hikmatyar has managed to build a large fortune
in terms of militiamen, money and monopoly over drug trade.
Dr Mateen, editor Voice of Solidarity, also pointed at Hikmatyar.
The Voice of Solidarity, a bilingual weekly appearing in Dari
(Afghan version of Persian) and Pashto, is official organ of Afghan
Cautious in his comments on Karzai, a sagacious act perhaps as
Kabul-based journalist, Dr Mateen also pointed out at the burning
down of Pakistans Consul General office in Jalalabad. ´This
shows the wide spread anger amongst the Afghans. They are not
ready to tolerate any interference even by the US allies´,
he pointed out.
An upset Karzai in an attempt to shed his puppet image, on May
15,said the actions of the United States military in Afghanistan
had helped to create a mood of resentment, and his Government
was taking steps to exert greater control over US operations.
the coalition must consult and discuss with us the
operations that it's doing, it has to be done in accordance with
our preferences and loss´.
Asked if Karzai´s statement reflects any differences among
US administration and present Afghan government, Aref Afghani
dismissed the statement saying Karzai is in the habit of delivering
such statements whenever USA commits excesses. Sahar Saba agrees
with this notion. ´Karzai knows he can not stay in power
without the presence of US forces. He just tries to calm down
passions when there is a popular outcry against US excesses´,
Meantime, Newsweek backtracked on its story on May 15, saying
its original report might have been wrong.
The magazine reported how the Pentagon had angrily protested
that the story was wrong and Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker said
in an editorial "we regret that we got any part of our story
wrong and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and
to the US soldiers caught in its midst".
Newsweek said that on checking with the senior US official who
had remembered seeing details of the Holy Quran incident in a
report, the official could no longer be sure. (Freedom of _Expression!!!).
The desecration of Quran at Guantanamo earned Muslims wrath all
across the Muslim world and protests were taken out from Gaza
to Indonesia including Afghanistan´s eastern neighbour Pakistan.
But in Pakistan, it was a Washington Times cartoon rather than
Newsweek report that caused a mix uproar a week preceding Newsweek
The Washington Times cartoon of Friday, 6 May portrayed Pakistani
military dictator General Pervez Musharraf as a dog of George
W. Bush in the ongoing war against terroroism.
The cartoon, drawn by Washington Times cartoonist Bill Garner,
showed a dog holding the shirt of "Abu Farraj al-Libbi",
a Libyan activist, who was recently arrested in Pakistan. An American
soldier is patting the dog. The U.S. soldier is saying to the
Pakistani dog: "GOOD BOY... NOW LET'S GO FIND bin LADEN!!!"
The cartoon displays the word, "PAKISTAN", on the body
of the dog.
An initial uproar in Pakistan media did not bother the Washington
Times. It rather haughtily dismissed the protest ridiculing in
its May 10 editorial , headlined ´A Dog´s life´:
´ "East is east and West is west, and never the twain
shall meet." The jet airplane and the Internet have rendered
a lot of Kipling's eloquence irrelevant, but the old boy had a
point. Cultures, if not necessarily at war, still clash. Consider
the noble dog. In the West we regard him as man's best friend.
For one thing, he sees and hears a lot, and he'll never tell.
Little old ladies have been known to bequeath fortunes to his
interests. "A gay dog" was once a sly compliment for
the man about town and with very different connotations than such
a compliment would imply today. Shakespeare characterized mighty
armies with canine metaphor ("let slip the dogs of war").
Great universities invoke him as mascot for their beloved athletic
teams. Yalies sing a hymn to him: "Bulldog, Bulldog, bow,
wow, wow," and the Georgia Bulldogs are annually the scourge
of college football. The most loyal Democrats of yesteryear proudly
called themselves "yellow dogs."
The editorial goes on : But this, alas, doesn't always translate
accurately to other cultures. In much of the Islamic world, for
example, the dog is not, not to put too fine a point on it, held
in such high repute, and is often regarded as not much better
than, say, the sole of a man's shoe. You can offend a devout Muslim,
as the editorial page of this newspaper has learned to our chagrin,
with a canine comparison that would cheer a conscientious Christian.
Our Bill Garner, whom we regard as the most incisive and talented
cartoonist at work on American newspapers, set out last week to
express, in a cartoonist's irreverent way, a little gratitude
for Pakistan's work in the pursuit and capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi,
believed to be the third-in-command of al Qaeda. In an unexpected
"tribute" to the long reach of the influence of this
newspaper, the Pakistani parliament adopted, unanimously, a resolution
decrying Mr. Garner's cartoon, and the Pakistani embassy has protested
"an insult to the sentiments of the people of both Pakistan
and the United States as it strengthens the hands of the extremists."
This imputes more power to a mere newspaper than any newspaper
deserves, but we take the embassy's point and offer the assurance
that no insult was intended.
Like Newsweek, the Washington Times had also to tender an apology
to Pakistan government. The Pakistani masses however had a mix
opinion on the subject. A friend from Pakistan in his email said:
´if we resist, we are turned to Afghanistan and Iran. If
we co-operate, than we get Washington Times cartoon´. Many
good humoured Pakistanis, however, thought Bush´s bootlicking
Mush deserves such a tribute and Washington Times in fact should
tender apology to dog world for this cartoon. East is East!