Why the Latest Kabul Unrest?

On May 29th, a US armored vehicle, while patrolling through the streets of Kabul, crashes into a dozen Afghan cars and kills four on the spot. The angry Afghans, who attribute the attack to an apparently 'drunk' driver, retaliate by throwing stones at the Americans. The Americans, later assisted by the Afghan police force, open fire on the mob. The affair goes out of control as more Afghans join the agitated mob and indulge in arson. Order is restored in the afternoon by which time as many as 20 protestors are killed by firing from security personnel. Many buildings and shops are set ablaze and looted. The deadliest incident involving civilians since the ouster of the Taliban, it has prompted serious trepidations among ordinary Afghans regarding the stability of the country.

However, answering the question as to how a handful of protestors turned out to be violent enough to neglect security measures and indulge in anarchy in such large scope is important. Some speculate that the peoples' incubating frustration at the slow pace of progress in the country led to the incident. While I wouldn't totally rule out the involvement of this factor, I would also like to point out a few other factors which have played critical roles.

Afghanistan prides itself over having defeated the then superpower Russians in the late 1980s. They also pride themselves over their victory against the Britons in the early 1900s when the then superpower retreated with only one severely wounded soldier left in its ranks. The Afghans still believe that despite their war-weariness, they can thwart out any 'invasion' on their soil.

The looming presence of foreign troops is hurting that national pride. On top of that, the troops' domineering behavior characterized by their careless patrols, recklessness in breaking local laws and ridiculing the local people, is fermenting resentment against them. This means the people react very strongly whenever-during such incidents-they get a chance of doing so. This also means that the widespread protests may have been a response to those feelings of subjugation and trampled national pride.

Afghanistan, with no exception of the capital, Kabul, is still geographically divided over ethnic lines. West Kabul, for example, is identified by its predominant Hazara populace; areas like the Qal'a Cha, by their predominant Pushtoon inhabitants, while Khair Khana, where the bloody traffic incident took place, is known by its Tajik population. Some speculate-with a fair degree of verity-that since the protests began there, and that the protestors were carrying photos of the Tajik warlord, Massoud, it may very well have been an upshot of incitement by Karzai's archrival and Tajik leader, Younus Qanuni.

However, that alone doesn't seem to have been the cause. When ATN-a private TV channel operating in Kabul-came under attack, the police-despite having been requested to interfere-came to the rescue two hours later, by which time almost half of the TV station had been engulfed by fire.

The fact that President Karzai fired 50 police officers and relocated more than 30 others right after the riots is an indicator of the incompetence of the force. Among those fired was the Kabul police chief, Jamil Junbish, who lost his job because the reaction of his department had been "very weak." The Defense Ministry, which admitted its shortcomings, has also been criticized by many. The worsening of situation after the traffic accident can almost exclusively be attributed to a poor handling of the incident by these institutions.

The growing dislike for foreign troops, dirty politics, and incompetence of the administrative cadres are some of the important catalysts which, if left unattended, can help speed up Afghanistan's tumble into chaos.

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I no longer update this weblog due to academic and other preoccupations. However, feel free to browse through its older entries. Thanks.
This is a weblog where a journalism enthusiast Afghan student writes about hot contemporary issues from an Afghan perspective. Enjoy your visit! Contact: mail . myscribbles @ gmail . com

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