Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kandahar Killings Stir Anti-American Fury
What is the public response inside Afghanistan?
People are very angry all around the country, especially young people. So far, there has only been one large demonstration, in Kandahar where the incident took place. There are demands for the US soldier in question to be brought to justice and tried before an Afghan court. Unfortunately, this can’t happen because of agreements already in place between ISAF [NATO force] and the Kabul government.
But a lot of Afghans are now saying that even if the soldier appears before an American court, there should be United Nations oversight, because they don’t have any faith at all that the US will try the perpetrator properly. Many Afghans feel that the US apology over this incident is just an attempt to deceive them. They don’t want an apology, they want action.
Do you think this case will prove even more inflammatory than the recent burning of Korans at Bagram?
A Koran can be reprinted, but the civilians – men, women and children – who have been killed cannot be brought back.
We are expecting this to result in demonstrations that are more violent than what we saw following the Koran burnings. It will give those who oppose the government, as well as some of Afghanistan’s neighbours which are against the international presence here, another opportunity to organise protests.
The Taleban have already vowed to take revenge, and of course they will use this as propaganda and as a recruiting tool.
People are saying this was an unforgivable act, and that it not only endangers the lives of non-Afghans but also of those Afghans who work for the foreign forces and for international organisations.
People like me have been saying that the international community is our friend and that it wants to help Afghanistan, but this event will make people question this even more.
What theories have emerged about the killings?
Afghans don’t see this as an isolated incident. People say that such incidents have happened before, such as a raid in Kapisa in February 2011 in which several children died, and the bombing of a wedding party in Kandahar in June 2010.
ISAF says the soldier responsible for the shooting was mentally ill. Afghans are saying that if that’s true, why didn’t he go crazy and shoot his fellow-soldiers? Why did he go off-base? Why was his illness not detected?
People believe it was a deliberate act, perhaps to avenge friends of his who’d been killed. Others argue that it was impossible for one soldier to carry an attack on three houses in two different areas. They believe it was a planned action carried out by a group, not by one rogue American soldier.
Will this affect relations between Kabul and Washington, or the planned withdrawal of international forces in 2014?
ISAF as a whole, not just the US, has spent millions of dollars on hearts-and-minds operations to win the public’s trust here. They may have had some small success, but recent events have had an adverse effect on this campaign. I am now sure that people are never going to trust the international forces. They perceive any foreign forces as American and don’t differentiate between nationalities.
I don’t think this will affect relations between Kabul and Washington in the long term. The Afghan government will want to show that it is independent and it will make some symbolic gestures, but after that relations will continue as before.
The effect, however, will be to create further distance between the Afghan government and the public. Most people – especially in rural communities – already see the Kabul government as a puppet in the hands of the US and unable to protect its own citizens. These shootings will just reinforce that view. The Taleban are already very active in such areas, particularly in the Pashtun part of the country, and this incident will be a very successful boost to their views.
I don’t think this is going to affect the 2014 pull-out. Despite their misgivings about the international troops, most Afghans don’t want this withdrawal to happen, because they are afraid Afghanistan will once again become a battleground for regional powers and that it will slide into civil war.
Afghans certainly have the right to demonstrate peacefully, but should not allow their enemies to exploit them and sow violence that will further damage relations with the international community.
In any case, the US has its own agenda and I don’t think it will be induced to leave sooner than 2014. However, this is going to make the next two years much more difficult both for the foreign troops and for the relationship between the Afghan government and its constituents. We have to anticipate more violence in coming days.
Noorrahman Rahmani is IWPR Country Director for Afghanistan.
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