'There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before'
-- Willa Cather
In the wake of the mob killings in Mazar-i-Sharif, pundits have expressed concern that this area of apparent relative security - now with its obvious underlying volatilty - is due to be one of the seven regions handed over to the Afghan army in June of this year. In fact, since the object of ire was the United Nations (as a not-too-convincing substitute for an evangelical American clergyman who burnt the Koran and uploaded its trial to YouTube for immediate global reach) it seems as if handing over this location to the Afghan army is actually a positive step.
The mob numbered several hundred according to newspaper accounts of the atrocity and suggests that at all levels, this foreign intervention to secure self-government, the great paradox of nation-building, is failing to gain the trust of the heterogenous population. Afghanistan and the Karzai government is an epic fallacy that threatens to unravel at any moment. We in the West assume that because elections were held, however fraudulently, that there is now a represented population and an accountable elite, a dynamic between the two of reciprocity. But the elections served only to legitimate a government, any government in order to ostensibly demonstrate progress towards a Western democratic model. The Karzai government is in no way similar to any nation-state system in the West. The Karzai government cannot, and possibly does not want to, be responsive to the needs of the citzens. It cannot enforce security on the ground and it cannot, without the foreign organizations that dominate the intellectual and kinetic infrastructure in the country, enact change.
The event in Mazar-i-Sharif represents an artificially orientated faultline that jihadists have been trying to exacerbate for a generation. How the United Nations is meant to represent the Koran-burning pastor is indicative of the vague lines that militants will use in attempts to coerce the population. The burning happened on March 20th and garnered almost no media publicity. It has been two weeks since then. According to interviewed UN personnel after the attack, security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in the past five years suggesting that the ISAF is losing the monopoly on violence. There are not enough Afghan troops, numerically, to ensure security across the country, and the neo-Taliban seem motivated and creative in their insurgency.
The pastor was warned against burning the Koran on September 11th of last year by both Obama and Petraeus, the latter informing him that it would endanger American lives. Instructive, that Petraeus should appeal to nationalist sentiment rather than religious. Petraeus did not suggest that Christian lives would be imperilled. In the end, the odd saga has been the apparent catalyst for an incident that has reignited debate about the immediate future in Afghanistan. No wonder that the US has chosen to pull out of combat missions for the Libyan no-fly zone - all action can in this world of globalized social media catalyse myriad responses.