In the Afghan province of Uruzgan, an incident in which NATO troops have been accused of tearing up a copy of the Qur’an, has sparked off a wave of protests. The centre of the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt, has been closed off. Eye-witnesses have told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that crowds of people are on their way to the main marketplace or bazaar to stage further protests.
The alleged incident took place on Wednesday. During a search operation by ISAF soldiers in the Mirabad Valley, a local resident refused to co-operate. The troops then tore up a copy of the Qur’an, according to a local journalist who questioned the protesters about the incident. Local officials - including a provincial minister - claim the allegation is part of the Taliban’s propaganda campaign, designed to give the international security troops a bad name.
More than 300 people already attended a religious demonstration in a mosque against the presence of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The imam conducting the service announced that ISAF troops had “torn the Qur’an down the middle”. Attempts by tribal leaders to fetch the torn holy book from the nearby Mirabad Valley have been blocked by the local police chief.
A spokesperson for the Dutch mission has confirmed that a demonstration is currently taking place in Tarin Kowt over the incident. The army added that there is no evidence to support the claim that ISAF troops actually tore the Qur’an and that they “categorically condemn such actions”.
The Dutch troop deployment in Afghanistan ends after four years on Sunday. Almost 2000 troops are stationed there, mainly in Uruzgan where the Taliban is very active. NATO had asked the Netherlands to extend the mission, which started in 2006 and has cost the lives of 24 soldiers by a year. This sparked a political row that led to the collapse of a coalition government in February and the end of the Dutch deployment.