In my column today I wrote about the new interest on the part of U.S. officials in talks with the Taliban, given the military gains in the field in recent months, and the domestic pressures to draw down troops.
I am skeptical about such talks. But I wonder whether the Afghan riots this weekend over the burning of a Koran by a loony pastor in Florida have any links to the fact that such talks are in the wind.
My guess is that these riots were organized by the Taliban, who are experts at disinformation.. The Koran burning took place on March 20 thousands of miles away from Central Asia, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai raised the issue publicly on March 24. Suddenly, on April 1, riots erupted in Mazar-e Sharif, a normally peaceful city in the north of Afghanistan, where Pashtuns (the ethnic group that make up the Taliban) are a minority and have never established a foothold.
Yet even in Mazar-e Sharif, it would not be so hard to stir up riots, as one imam did last week, by claiming that hundreds of Korans had been burned in the USA. (This is exactly the tactic that was used to stir up riots over the cartoons about the Prophet Muhammed in Danish newspapers; long after publication, radical imams deliberately spread gross exaggerations in the Muslim world about what had happened).
Who has an interest in stirring up such violence? The Taliban, of course. Right now they are being hurt on the battlefield in southern Afghanistan: NATO. troops are planning to pull back this year from “safer” areas, including Mazar-e Sharif. So the Taliban may be trying a disinformation campaign – to offset their losses, better their bargaining position, or even to avoid any peace talks, which some Taliban commanders opposes.
This episode will burn itself out, and hopefully some means will be found to curb the destructive activities of Pastor Terry Jones. Such a wholly irresponsible man must have commited prosecutable acts in areas not protected by the First Amendment. But the riots provide fair warning that the Taliban, reeling in some Afghan regions from the surge, will seek new ways to offset their weaknesses, as the United States seeks a way to exit Afghanistan.