Afghanistan: threats, violence meet Nowruz

From AP, March 22:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Authorities launched a probe today into the killings by Afghan security forces of at least 15 people, who an Afghan army commander claimed were Taliban rebels but locals said were tribesmen wanting to attend a religious festival.

The bodies of the victims were found near the border town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, where some 2,000 members of the Noorzai tribe protested today against the slayings and demanded action be taken against Afghan forces responsible.

Earlier in the day, frontier security commander Abdul Razzak said his forces had fought a two-hour gun battle late Tuesday in the area against a group of suspected Taliban rebels who had crossed the border from neighbouring Pakistan.

But Pakistani officials denied that Taliban militants had crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan… Kandahar provincial Gov. Haji Asadullah Khalid said he did not know whether the victims were Taliban fighters and had sent an investigating team to probe the killings.

Khalid’s deputy and a member of the Noorzai tribe, Naimat Khan Noorzai, rejected claims that those killed were Taliban fighters and said “they were killed in cold blood because of a tribal conflict” allegedly involving Razzak’s tribe…

Noorzai said the victims were planning to travel from the capital, Kabul, to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to celebrate Nowruz, an ancient Persian spring festival that is a predominantly Shiite Muslim event marking the new year in Afghanistan. It is also celebrated by Sunnis.

From the Canadian Press, March 21:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canadian engineers foiled a planned bombing involving two motorcycles Tuesday, underlining tensions in the war-torn country as Afghanis tried to celebrate the ancient festival of Nau Roz — the Persian New Year.

Troops from the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) disassembled the unarmed bombs, which were stuffed into the seats of the motorcycles in the nearby village of Hajiwan.

The Afghan National Police were tipped to the presence of the bombs…

Over the last few days, coalition troops throughout the country have been bracing for a possible surge in violence to coincide with Nau Roz, which literally means new day.

From AP, March 21:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Police in the Afghan capital defused two bombs Tuesday near a Shiite shrine where tens of thousands of people had gathered for a religious festival, the country’s anti-terrorism chief said.

The bombs were discovered hidden near the Sakhi shrine, the second most important Shiite place of worship in Afghanistan, General Abdul Manan Farahi told The Associated Press.

Police defused the bombs and removed them, he said. The festival carried on without interruption as police patrolled the area on horses, in cars and on foot.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children flocked to the shrine from before dawn to celebrate Nowruz, an ancient Persian festival celebrated on the first day of spring in several countries including Afghanistan and Iran.

Though it is predominantly a Shiite festival, Nowruz also marks the new year in Afghanistan and is celebrated by Sunnis.

Farahi said it was not clear who had planted the bombs.

Security was tight Tuesday at Shiite shrines across Afghanistan amid fears of violence that could spark sectarian clashes.

Some 80 percent of Afghans are Sunni, while 19 percent are Shiite. There has been little tension between them in recent years, though last month two-days of fighting between rival sectarian gangs in the western city of Herat left four people dead and almost 50 wounded.

While the Taliban rebels, who are waging an insurgency across the country’s southern and eastern regions, are Sunni, they haven’t directed their insurgency against the minority Shiites.

A March 23 account from Cultural Heritage News tells how the pre-Islamic spring festival of Nowruz has been adapted by Afghanistan’s Shiites, with pilgrimages to the Chila Khana mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif:

The holiday begins with the raising of religious banner or janda in the courtyard of the city’s magnificent blue-domed shrine. That is where, according to Afghan traditions, Imam Ali, cousin and son in law of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the first Shiite religious leader, is buried (It must be noted that Imam Ali’s holly shrine is actually located in the city of Najaf in Iraq; however, the Afghans believe that it is not). For several weeks until the janda is taken down in a second ceremony on the 13th day of the New Year, the city will host tens of thousands of visitors from across Afghanistan. During this period, all of those who have a heartfelt wish and the ailed stay at the foot of the banner and crave for their wish to come true. It is said that many of the patients have recovered under this very banner…

Buzkashi matches are held during Norouz or Persian New Year. Horsemen race each other while fighting for a headless goat carcass. Buzkashi is said to date from the time of Genghis Khan. With their Asiatic feature, high heeled boots and quilted jackets and sashes, the professional players look as though they step out of another area, but they had also accessorize their outfits with a few touches from Afghan’s more recent past including olive green Soviet tanker’s helmets from 1980s and black plastic knee pads that would have fit in with the rollerblades in Rock Creek Park.

So the Afghan “resistance” seems to be predominantly resisitng Shia, not US imperialism.

See also WW4 REPORT #28

See our last posts on Afghanistan and this year’s Ashura violence.