Foreign Policy Blogs

Mob Violence Spreads South to Taliban Heartland

The violence that began in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan has spread to southern Afghanistan in Kandahar, the Taliban’s home base.  The New York Times reports that 81 people have been injured while 9 more people have died of gunshot wounds, bringing the number of dead up to 21 people since Friday afternoon prayers when imams riled up an anxious and troubled Afghan public, weary of war, bombs and the devastation they bring.

This violence has been set off not by Pastor Terry Jone’s insipid, intolerant act of burning a Koran on March 20th.  These violent mob-mentality protests have been triggered by irresponsible public speech in mosques and other public venues, perhaps to stoke up nationalist embers, perhaps to move the idea of a more Islamist society more to the political center.  (It’s quite hard to imagine what a more Islamist society and culture than that in and of Afghanistan might actually look like.)

Moreover some analysts think President Karzai must share the responsibility for this violence, for he brought up the Koran burning on a speech he gave last Thursday before the contentious issue spread across mosques in Afghanistan.  Nevertheless, public officials who hold the pulse of the nation, in Afghanistan imams, must bear perhaps and undue share of the blame for they enjoy undue power in the streets, and ultimately, in people’s hearts.

But for now, this is all you need to know about the scene in Kandahar, where,

“… several thousand young men, shouting slogans calling for death to Americans and to the government of President Hamid Karzai, were still rioting after several hours on Saturday, setting tires on fire throughout the city, burning cars and attacking journalists trying to cover the disorder. Shops and businesses were closed, and most people stayed off the street. Many of the protesters were waving the white flag of the Taliban.”

Along with other senseless acts of violence, the rioters attacked a school for girls and now risk a frontal attack from Afghan armed forces.  If this continues for a day and more, there will be little distinction between these rioter-protesters and the Taliban who enjoy deep popularity in Kandahar.  Even though the Afghan people have yet to irreversibly step away from the Taliban’s shadow, tomorrow offers a shot at peace on the streets.  Even as the day today brought disappointment and sorrow, tomorrow young Afghans in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere have a chance to exercise their speech to stand for their grievances.  Were that the young men of the streets would take up their political speech and lay down their guns and other sordid and handmade weapons.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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