Security guards shooting the breeze outside a guesthouse for international workers in Kabul.
KABUL, Afghanistan—The “proof of life” form distributed at my workplace earlier this week asked me to write four questions and answers that only my loved ones and I would know in the event that I was abducted and there were negotiations for my release. After all, no one would want to pay a ransom demand for me if I was already dead.
A week ago today, Afghanistan erupted into violence that was triggered by reports that an American Christian pastor had torched a copy of the Quran, Islam’s most sacred text. Published news stories indicated that at least two dozen persons died in bloody protests that began last Friday in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and quickly spread to other cities. As recently as yesterday, there were still protests and at an otherwise peaceful demonstration in Kabul participants were chanting “Death to America,” according to one of the organizers. "We blame Terry Jones for his action (but) we also believe that American government is behind this burning of the Quran," he told CNN.
So against that backdrop, the text message I received two days ago that a convoy operated by NATO's International Security Assistance Force had killed an Afghan civilian in a traffic accident about 200 meters from my workplace, an American university, captured my attention. NATO convoys don’t like to slow down, much less stop, when zipping through urban areas because that makes them more vulnerable to attack. A lockdown, meaning no movement in out of the workplace or the guesthouses for international workers, went into effect but was lifted about an hour later because the incident ignited only a brief flurry of stone-throwing by irate pedestrians at the scene.
With tensions still high yesterday, my employer announced a “preventative” lockdown for today. Mass demonstrations here and elsewhere in other Muslim countries often occur after Friday prayers, which ended about an hour ago.