While the burning of the Koran set off the protests raging in Afghanistan that have claimed over 30 lives, destroying the holy book is no longer the main reason tensions are running high, one expert says.
One protester was killed on Sunday and seven US soldiers were wounded during a grenade attack in the sixth day of protests since some Korans were burnt outside an US airbase in Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama and other leading US diplomats and military officials have apologized for the burnings, which they said were accidental, but it has done little to suppress Afghans' anger.
However, Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said the protests being witnessed Sunday were no longer directly connected to the Koran burnings but an expression of Afghans' anger at the way they are treated by the international community.
"What angers Afghans much more is that special forces kill people in their night raids who are rebels," he said. "That's been happening more and more lately."
Wide-ranging rethink needed
The West's strategy in Afghanistan needs a wide-ranging rethink, Ruttig said.
"Over the short term all we can hope for is that the Afghan officials can have a calming effect," he said adding that Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as some mullahs have called for peace.
Karzai's concern about the on-going protests is evident in the many written statements his office has issued on the topic as well as his appearance Sunday in a radio interview in which he said now was "the time to return to calm." Though his comments did not seem to influence protesters, Karzai also said the US troops responsible for the burning the Muslim holy book should be held accountable for their acts.
NATO, Britain, Germany and France recalled their advisers from Afghan ministries in Kabul after two US officers were found dead in their office. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the act, saying it was revenge for the burnings. Not being directly involved in the burnings is unlikely to protect other foreign troops, Ruttig said.
"There is no longer much willingness on the part of the Afghan population to differentiate," he said.
An unpredictable situation
In northern Afghanistan, where the German Bundeswehr is stationed, General Erich Pfeffer said the situation was "not predictable." Germany has withdrawn troops from one of its bases, Camp Talokan, ahead of schedule. At least three protesters died on Saturday outside a German camp near Kunduz.
Ruttig warned against pulling troops out of the country.
"You cannot run away," he said. "Especially not when the international community has made so many promises to help restore stability and committed so many soldiers."
Instead, he recommended additional training for troops and civilians sent to Afghanistan, "We have to develop a much better sensitivity for the country."
Author: Andreas Noll / sms
Editor: Chuck Penfold