Afhanistan Resent Quran Desecration, Pakistan Protest Cartoon
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 as well.

Talking to Internationalen on telephone, Aref Afghani said the protests were a reaction to US presence as well as Karzai government’s 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 says.

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 Pakistan’s 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 Pakistan’s 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 Solidarity Party.

Cautious in his comments on Karzai, a sagacious act perhaps as Kabul-based journalist, Dr Mateen also pointed out at the burning down of Pakistan’s 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´, Sahar says.

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 report.

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!


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