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AFGHANISTAN
Protests over desecration of the Koran
Anger at U.S. war on Islam boils over

By Nicole Colson | May 20, 2005 | Page 5

ANGER BOILED over across the globe last week at a media report about the U.S. military's abuse of Muslim prisoners at its prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The upheaval was centered in Afghanistan, where several days of rioting and protests around the country left at least 17 people dead and more than 100 injured.

The demonstrations were sparked by a Newsweek article that reported that U.S. Southern Command investigators had found evidence that interrogators at Guantánamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet in an attempt to upset detainees.

The article caused outrage across the Muslim world when, on May 6, a popular Pakistani politician, Imran Khan, held a press conference, reading from the story and denouncing the U.S.

Khan's remarks, as well as the outraged comments of Muslim clerics and Pakistani government officials, were picked up on local radio and played in neighboring Afghanistan, leading to protests in the eastern city of Jalalabad--where at least four people were killed by police. Other demonstrations quickly followed, spreading to at least 15 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Meanwhile, people took to the streets for protests in Pakistan, Indonesia, Gaza and elsewhere.

The Bush administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed that the demonstrations were organized by the "enemies of stability"--remnants of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, along with radical Islamists, particularly from neighboring Pakistan.

Newsweek, under intense pressure from the Bush administration, retracted its story. But evidence of the abuse of Guantánamo prisoners, including mental and physical torture, is overwhelming.

Several detainees have reported U.S. troops' desecration of the Koran, even if the reports haven't been confirmed by the Pentagon. For example, Mark Falkoff, a lawyer representing 13 Yemeni detainees held at Guantánamo, told Newsweek that a mass-suicide attempt by 23 detainees in August 2003 was triggered by a guard's dropping a Koran and stomping on it.

While the report of the Koran desecration may have been the spark that set off the protests, the anger of ordinary Afghans is fueled by much more.

More than three years after the U.S. invasion, "liberated" Afghanistan continues to have the one of the highest poverty rates in the world, and the Bush administration has all but abandoned promises of aid. An estimated 700 children under the age of five die every day due to preventable diseases--and one woman dies every 20 minutes due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth. In Ghor province alone, more than 1,000 children died as a result of this year's harsh winter.

The U.S. occupation force of some 17,000 troops searching for al-Qaeda remnants continues to round up Afghan men in its ongoing military operations. Often, innocent detainees sit for months, and even years, in jail before being released. Reports of prisoner abuse at the hands of U.S. are widespread.

As Socialist Worker went to press, Karzai, bowing to public pressure, promised that he would correct "mistakes" made by U.S. forces, particularly the intrusive searches of homes by American troops. He also said he would demand that the U.S. turn over control of military operations to the Afghan government, and called for the return of the hundreds of Afghan prisoners from Guantánamo Bay.

But Karzai knows that his fate is tied to the Bush administration--and to arrangements negotiated with local warlords, who continue to rule large areas of the country.

In March, for example, the Karzai government appointed Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum as chief-of-staff to the commander of the armed forces. Dostom has been accused of war crimes--including allowing his militia members to suffocate hundreds of prisoners to death by locking them inside shipping containers during the 2001 U.S. invasion.

As Human Rights Watch reported in March, "Warlords and their troops in many areas have been implicated in widespread rape of women and children, murder, illegal detention, forced displacement, human trafficking and forced marriage. Local military and police forces, even in Kabul, have been involved in arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, extortion, torture, and extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects."

Women, supposedly liberated from their burqas by the U.S. invasion, continue to suffer the most. Education for women and girls is nearly nonexistent, and most women continue to wear the burqa. Women who dare to speak out are targeted, and often raped. Earlier this month, for example, the bodies of three Afghan women, one of whom worked for an aid agency, were found raped, strangled and dumped in Baghlan province--with a warning to other women not to work for such groups.

After promising to release Afghans from the tyranny of the former Taliban government, the Bush administration and its puppets in Afghanistan are presiding over conditions that differ little, if at all--and doing it in the name of the "war on terror."

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