Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Karzai's role in protests over Koran burning again reveals divide with U.S.

Afghan students shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday to condemn the March 20 burning of the Koran at a Gainesville church.

Associated Press

Afghan students shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday to condemn the March 20 burning of the Koran at a Gainesville church.

KABUL, Afghanistan — On the second day of last week's deadly riots in Kandahar, around the same time that a gas canister exploded in a police booth set ablaze by protesters outside the governor's office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai picked up the phone and called the mullah.

According to the Washington Post, he told Maulvi Habibullah, a Kandahar imam and a leader of the protests, that 10 days earlier, he had condemned in the strongest terms the Rev. Terry Jones' decision to burn a Koran in a small Gainesville church on March 20.

The Post said it was told by Karzai aides that the news surprised Habibullah, and the imam agreed to urge his followers to calm down. Habibullah could not be reached for comment, the Post said.

In the presidential palace's version of events, Karzai has been a concerned leader taking an active part in restoring order, amid four days of mob violence and clashes with the police that have left at least 21 people dead and about 150 wounded in cities across Afghanistan.

But, according to the Post, many U.S. and other Western officials in Afghanistan say Karzai has played a more damaging role. They say that his initial statement condemning Jones four days after the March 20 Koran burning was provocative and that it informed many Afghans of an event that was not widely known and helped mobilize public anger toward the United States. The Post said its Afghan and Western sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politically sensitive episode frankly.

Throughout the crisis, Karzai has repeatedly pushed the issue, calling for Jones' prosecution, even though the burning of holy books is not a crime in the United States, and for Congress to join in his condemnation.

The episode has revealed again the divide between Karzai and the West, a gulf of mistrust and acrimony that poses a serious challenge to success in Afghanistan. Repeated public confrontations with him over issues of corruption, governance and the role of the foreign militaries have tested Western patience.

In their public statements, top U.S. and international officials in Afghanistan have placed the blame on Jones for the outrage that followed while simultaneously denouncing the violence that killed seven U.N. employees in northern Afghanistan on Friday and more Afghans there and in Kandahar.

When asked about Karzai's role, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said, "I still believe, frankly, that the real person to be condemned is the one who actually burned the Koran, because he should know what is at stake.

"Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending cultures, religions, traditions of others, especially when he knows, and he has seen in the past, that when that touches Islam, they become so violent," he said.

When Jones burned the Koran on March 20, the event made little news in the United States or abroad.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the act two days later, followed by Karzai on March 24. During Friday sermons eight days later, the wider Afghan public took up the issue, and the protests began.

"This is a very religious Islamic country, and the president is the leader of this Muslim country," said Waheed Omer, a Karzai spokesman. "The president saw it as his moral and religious duty on behalf of the Afghan people to condemn this.

"People would have been informed anyway. This was something that would not have kept a low profile in a country like Afghanistan," he said. "The president's primary concern was not to prevent this information from getting to the people of Afghanistan."

The demonstrations continued Monday in the eastern provinces of Nangahar and Laghman and included burning an effigy of Jones and throwing rocks at police. The protests were less violent than in previous days. In northwestern Faryab province, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform fatally shot two NATO service members inside their compound before fleeing the scene. In a statement, Karzai condemned the killings and identified the victims as Americans.

"This is a war between fundamentalists," said Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's national security adviser, of the turmoil. "And we are all the victims."

Karzai's role in protests over Koran burning again reveals divide with U.S. 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays blow lead, rally, blow lead, rally again to beat Twins in 15 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays sure made it interesting Sunday, taking an early lead, watching their beleaguered bullpen blow it, rallying to tie in the ninth, battling the Twins to take a lead in the 14th then giving it up again.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 28: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates scoring a run against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on May 28, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010990
  2. Marijuana extract sharply cuts seizures in severe form of epilepsy


    An oil derived from the marijuana plant sharply reduces violent seizures in young people suffering from a rare, severe form of epilepsy, according to a study published last week that gives more hope to parents who have been clamoring for access to the medication.

  3. 'I ain't fit to live': Police say Mississippi gunman kills 8


    BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — A man who got into an argument with his estranged wife and her family over his children was arrested Sunday in a house-to-house shooting rampage in rural Mississippi that left eight people dead, including his mother-in-law and a sheriff's deputy.

    People embrace Sunday outside the Bogue Chitto, Miss., house where eight people were killed during a shooting rampage Saturday in Lincoln County, Miss.
  4. Kushner's Russia ties questioned as Trump cites media 'lies'


    WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump's son-in-law may need to be revoked.

  5. Muslims thankful for support after rant, deadly attack


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Muslims in Portland, Ore., thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women — one wearing a hijab — who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.

    Jeremy Christian is accused of killing 2 men who stepped in as he berated two women.