(This short article was published in the November issue of CRITIQUE - the monthly of NSI, Delhi University Chapter, and in the December issue of ALIRAN Monthly, Malaysia)
On the morning of 8th September as we approached Bagh-e-Bala in Central Kabul, the air was reverberating with angry cry of Nara-e-Takbir – Allah-O-Akbar. There were around a thousand people outside a mosque. As we sluggishly passed the crowd, our driver suddenly yelled, “America No Good, Pakistan No Good. Russia Good, Hindustan Good”. It was only then I learnt from my young Afghani Interpreter that people had gathered outside the mosque to protest against the plans of burning the Koran on 9/11 in the United States of America.
Pastor Terry John of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida had announced that his church will hold an “International Burn a Koran Day” on September 11th. Had it not been for the global outrage against his plans of burning the Koran, this obscure pastor from a church with 30 odd followers would have gone ahead with his “International Burn a Koran Day” which would have had detrimental effects across the ‘Muslim’ world.
However, it seems that the damage has been done in Afghanistan. Even though Pastor John has put his plans on hold, demonstrators took to the streets for the 5th day across Afghanistan on Monday. Armed with flags, banners and stones, the demonstrators shouted “Death to America” and “Death to the Puppet Karzai Government”
On 10th September an angry crowd of around 10,000 people marched through the streets of Faizabad, the capital city of Badakhshan province in Northeastern Afghanistan. The angry demonstrators gheraoed the NATO base and one person were killed when NATO soldiers opened fire in retaliation. On 12th September, around 500 protestors marched towards a group of Afghan security forces and pelted stones in Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province in Central Afghanistan. The soldiers opened fire into the crowd of protesters, killing 2 on the spot and seriously wounding 4 people.
Abdul Rasheed, our driver, is a battle hardened Tajik from Pansheer province – the home of the legendary Mujahideen General and Afghan National Hero Late Ahmad shah Masoud. Rasheed, himself, is a veteran mujadiheen who as a young 20 years old took to the guns to fight the invading Russians (Soviets) way back in 1979. After the Soviets (Russians) made a retreat, he fought against the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmateyer for the prized battle of Kabul. Later he fought the Talibans under the command of General Ahmad Shah Masoud and remained a faithful mujahideen soldier until the fall of Taliban regime in 2001.
Now Abdul Rasheed is 50 years old and works as a Security Driver in Kabul. Not so long ago he lost 3 fingers on his left hand to a Taliban Rocket Propelled Grenade while driving in Ghazni province.
It was well past noon when we were on our way back. And as we approached the demonstrating crowd again, Abdul Rasheed burst out into a song, “America no good, Pakistan no good, Iran no good, Afghanistan no good – Russia good, Hindustan good - good, good, good”. I could clearly sense that my colleague from Kyrgyzstan is annoyed as well as curious. Both of us exchanged glances and asked Rasheed, “You fought the Russians for 10 years, why do you say Russia is good?”
Rasheed keeps mum for a while and then angrily says, “I fought the Russians because they invaded my country. But they didn’t mis-treat us like the Americans do. Whenever they arrested us, they treated us with dignity and we did the same”, after another pause he says, "they didn't bomb people".
Rasheed remained silent again for some minutes and burst out again saying, “the Russians were not like Americans when they use to move in a convoy on the streets”; now obviously he is venting out his frustration as a driver and referring to the fact that today if an American/NATO convoy moves around, no vehicle can be closer than 50 meters and failing to maintain the distance can invite bullets. Now almost lost in his thoughts, he murmured “And the Russians never burnt the Koran; Al-Queda doesn't exist, America and Al-Queda are synonyms”.
While being here in Afghanistan, I have been trying to find an answer to why the Taliban have been able to "rise from the ashes" and engulf this country again, they have even made penetration to provinces like Badakhshan which they never controlled or occupied in their heydays; and Rasheed’s answer provided me with some clue.
What made him glorify the enemy he himself spent best years of his youth fighting against? After all the Russians were no saint, their invasion also left hundreds of thousands death.
That evening I asked Danish Karokhel, the Editor-in chief of Pajhwok Afghan News - why a resurgent Taliban? He smiled and said “Pakistan, Iran, civilian casualty in the ‘war against terror’; and stupidity (arrogance) of the Americans”.
Rest is for us to understand about what happened in Afghanistan and in history.
Note: Many more protesters got killed by armed forces later while protesting against the plan of burning even after 11th September.
This article is based on the author's recent stay in Afghanistan