The burning question

Afghanistan is in the eye of another murky storm. A suspected senior Afghan security personnel, who is now on the run, has shot dead two senior US military officers in the interior ministry.

As a result, all Nato-US personnel working within Afghan ministries have been recalled. The suspected motive for the killings may be revenge for the burning of copies of the Holy Quran by US personnel at the Bagram airbase earlier. The resulting countrywide protests have resulted in at least 29 deaths. More violent protests are expected despite an apology rendered to Kabul by US President Barack Obama — a move which has been condemned by the Republican party in the US. Terming it as a sign of showing American weakness, the Republicans’ stand is now likely to be bolstered by the officers’ deaths.

The more serious issue at hand is the impact of the incident on coordination work between the two allies in Afghanistan. Apparently, this will affect intelligence cooperation and other work at various levels within different ministries. Quick to assert some damage control, Afghan Defence Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak called his US counterpart Leon Panetta to convey President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to restore calm. In order to stem the violence from spreading and vested elements exploiting the situation, Karzai is convening an urgent meeting of parliamentarians, senior officials and religious leaders. While the insurgents are blamed for fanning the violence and inciting people to attack the foreign forces to avenge the sacrilege committed against the Holy Quran, popular anger over the incident is not a factor that can be attributed to their instigation alone. Last year at least two dozen people got killed when violent protests broke out over the burning of the Quran by an American pastor in Florida. Meanwhile, both Kabul and the Coalition must not fall prey to any incident that mars their relationship. The burning incident was itself a grave error and the consequences should have been expected. It is unfathomable that how this could have even occurred. Similarly, Afghan officials, even those with the highest security clearance could turn rogue and either take revenge on their Coalition personnel on a personal basis or on the behest of an external party, say an insurgent group. It is time both sides took extra care not to allow such incidents to happen again for the sake of peace and stability.

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