Afghans Have Mixed Feelings About U.S. Presence
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
For the first time in years a 10:00PM curfew is in effect in the Afghan capital. One week ago, a fatal multi-car accident involving a U.S. military vehicle triggered the most deadly riots in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban.
NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Kabul on the aftermath of the accident and the violence.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
The Kabul headquarters of the aid organization CARE International still reeks of scorched wood nearly a week after rioters set fire to the building.
(Soundbite of workers cleaning up debris)
Mr. PAUL BARKER (Country Director, CARE International, Afghanistan): The walls were still collapsing about a day-and-a-half after the fire itself. It's definitely an unstable building.
WATSON: Paul Barker, the Country Director for CARE, gives a tour of what's left of the building, which lies in ruins. He says more than 100 young Afghan men broke down doors to the compound last week. Local staff members managed to protect the kindergarten here, but they could not save the main office. Barker says this is a wake-up call to the international community, which was once welcomed in Afghanistan.
Mr. BARKER: I think there's an element of disenchantment with the relief efforts. Not enough has happened. We're almost five years into this reconstruction effort and, still, Kabul doesn't have reliable electricity. Still, you have tens of percent, 20, 30, 40 percent of the population of Kabul unemployed.
WATSON: The trouble started last Monday when a heavy truck in a U.S. military convoy veered out of control and slammed into rush-hour traffic, killing and injuring several Afghans. The American soldiers gave first aid to the victims, until an angry crowd gathered and began throwing stones.
That prompted the Americans, at first, to fire warning shots; and then, some eyewitnesses say, they shot into the crowd as they fled the scene. From there, mobs of thousands of Afghans rampaged through the streets of Kabul, many of them chanting death to America.
Unidentified Man: Death, death American army, we don't like, (unintelligible).
WATSON: One of the rioters was this 25-year-old doctor who, in 2001, applauded the arrival of foreign troops. He, and another young doctor, only give the names Misan(ph) and Yusefi(ph) for fear of arrest. They say, when wildly exaggerated rumors reached them of a massacre caused by American soldiers, they both joined in the riot, vandalizing a private Afghan TV station and a United Nations compound.
Misan says he was angry because he already had bad experiences with American military convoys, which threatened him once when he was riding his motorcycle.
MISAN: They told me, don't go by this way. We are American and if they come near me, I will kill you. And they put their gun to (unintelligible), so I'm very afraid of them (unintelligible).
WATSON: The second doctor, Yusefi, says he hopes the riots taught the U.S. military a lesson on how to behave in Afghanistan. But, he adds, he does not want the foreign troops to leave the country.
YUSEFI: (Through translator) Because if we don't have them right now, once again we will have the problem of al-Qaida and they will create a big disaster for Afghanistan. But what we want them to do is change the way they treat people.
Mr. BARKER: Yeah, it's a very uniquely sort of Afghan response to a complex situation.
WATSON: Paul Barker, of CARE, points out that it was just as much an anti-government riot as it was an anti-American riot. He accuses political groups from northern Afghanistan of quickly exploiting the anger in the streets after the accident.
Mr. BARKER: A lot of this was trying to embarrass the Karzai government and make it look weak and incapable of responding, and punishing it for what they saw as shortcomings of the administration's delivery so far.
WATSON: Abdul Hafiz Mansoor agrees. He is the editor of a newspaper devoted to the Mujahedin groups that made up the Northern Alliance, which helped overthrow the Taliban.
Mr. ABDUL HAFIZ MANSOOR (Chief Editor, Payam-e-Mujahed Newspaper): (Through Translator) The message that's sent by the people is that the government is useless, the government does not have achievement...
WATSON: But Mansoor rejects allegations that Mujahedin members led packs of rioters. Over the last week, Afghan president, Hamid Karzai fired Kabul's police chief and replaced him with a prominent commander from the former Northern Alliance. The government has also posted extra security on Kabul's busy streets.
(Soundbite of traffic)
WATSON: Meanwhile, the incident prompted the Afghan parliament to pass a motion calling for any U.S. soldiers found responsible for the accident to be prosecuted according to Afghan law. The U.S. military insists American troops are immune to Afghan prosecution.
Yesterday, the commander of the growing NATO forces in Afghanistan addressed the foreign soldiers' image problem. He says his troops will be ordered to drive less aggressively in the future, even though this may put them at greater risk of an ambush by Taliban insurgents.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kabul.
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