Afghanistan has veered sharply and unexpectedly toward a profound new level of instability, as protests against cartoons originally published in a Danish newspaper and deemed insulting to Mohammed have gripped major towns and cities across the country.
So far four protesters have been killed by local Afghan security forces. Three of the dead fell at a protest outside the huge US military base at Bagram, where at least a dozen others were wounded. Some Western embassies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have begun evacuating staff. Foreigners are largely staying off the streets, as protests are expected to continue until midday prayers on Friday.
In Kabul on Tuesday, protesters gathered outside foreign embassies, military bases and a United Nations compound. Turned away at each location by guards firing weapons in the air, a crowd of 1,000 or more headed to the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, where they attacked UN vehicles and houses belonging–or believed to belong–to NGOs. There were also major protests in the western city of Herat; at the office of the Aga Khan Foundation, one of the largest aid agencies operating in Afghanistan; and in Pul-i-Khumri, due north of Kabul, where crowds attacked a Dutch base. The Dutch Parliament recently voted to send an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan’s violent southern central province of Uruzgan.
In the normally peaceful northern town of Maymana, a crowd breached a base manned by Norwegian troops, threw stones, lobbed grenades, torched an armored vehicle and wounded several soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The troops shot tear gas and rubber bullets, and called in low-flying aircraft to ward off the protesters. British troops sent in a rapid-reaction force from Mazar-i-Sharif. Eventually, the crowd dispersed, with one person reported dead and several wounded (some of the wounded are said to have later died).
Given the breadth and scope of the violence and its overtly anti-Western themes, it is clear that after four years of occupation and $8 billion of poorly managed development aid, a significant number of Afghans have grown tired of the “international community” and its military occupation.
Complementing the wave of violent protests was a massive suicide bombing at the central police station in Kandahar on Tuesday morning. That blast, the twentieth suicide bombing in the past four months, left at least thirteen dead and thirteen wounded. The victims, both police and civilians, had been standing in a queue at the police station.