KABUL — For the third straight day, Afghans took to the streets Sunday to protest the burning of a Koran in Florida. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, a marked contrast to the first two days of violence, which left at least 20 people dead.
Hundreds of people blocked the main highway in Jalalabad, an important city in eastern
Afghanistan. Demonstrators burned an effigy of President Obama and chanted anti-American slogans.
Among the protesters were many students from a local university who called for the prosecution of the Rev. Terry Jones, according to Ahmad Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
On March 20, Jones, pastor of a tiny Florida church, declared Islam’s holy book “guilty” of “crimes against humanity” and ordered it set ablaze in a portable fire pit.
Sunday’s demonstration in Jalalabad ended peacefully, as did another one in Parwan province, the home of Bagram air base, a large NATO military complex north of Kabul. There, protesters burned tires and blocked a highway. A second day of demonstrations Saturday in Kandahar, however, was more volatile, as protesters at a downtown mosque clashed with police. Twenty people were injured, the Associated Press reported.
The ongoing tumult prompted Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, and his civilian counterpart, Ambassador Mark Sedwill, to issue a statement reiterating “our condemnation of any disrespect to the Holy Qu’ran and the Muslim faith.”
“We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Qu’ran,” the statement said. “We further hope that Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the Holy Qu’ran, are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.”
When Jones first threatened last year to burn a Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Petraeus was among several top U.S. officials who strongly urged against it and warned about the troubling consequences that could arise in Afghanistan. Jones eventually called off the event.
Then, in January, Jones announced that he was going to “put the Koran on trial.” He said he didn’t hear a single complaint. The “trial” was held March 20, and the holy text subsequently burned.
Tensions erupted Friday when a mob, angry about the burning, attacked the United Nations compound in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, killing seven U.N. employees and destroying the offices. Another bloody day followed in Kandahar, when police fought with protesters, leaving at least nine dead and more than 80 injured.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose comments about the Koran burning brought it to the attention of many Afghans, raised the issue again in a statement Sunday. He said that in a national security council meeting, he discussed the issue with U.S. officials and reiterated that “those people who are responsible for burning the holy Koran should be arrested soon.”
Hamdard is a special correspondent.