In a lesser affront to American sentiments than Abu Ghraib, with the frustrations of a prolonged decade-long war in Afghanistan showing, a few US soldiers had burned copies of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, by throwing them into an incinerator at the Bagram airbase as if portending what could happen to the country if it did not stabilize soon enough to the satisfaction of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Local laborers, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports, found the charred remains of Allah’s melody to Prophet Mohammed.
Book burning by American soldiers, not trained to burn books even if Taliban was using them to pass messages, is seen by Washington as a grave strategic error in combat than as a religious insult. Taliban appears to have set up American soldiers to take the bait: those called Islamo-Fascists by Bush can now call America a fascist nation for burning books they do not like, especially the holiest to the people of Afghanistan, a trait seen in the Chinese of the Ming Dynasty, Hitler and Stalin.
The last 100 meters of any marathon always seems to be the longest. Carelessness can cost the race. And it did. Only Alexander the Great, Islam still about a millennium away, had the right attitude for the people hardened by the mountainous region. America could not save Ahmad Shah Masood, before Hamid Karzai, from Al Qaeda and Taliban. Now it is doubtful if any sentiments for democracy can be saved among the populace in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the protests spread unless NATO soldiers walk home-to-home and door-to-door to distribute copies of the Koran.
Against the backdrop of President Karzai desiring to integrate Taliban into his government despite the reluctance of the United States and building closer ties with Iran, Iran withdrawing its oil from the world market before the Europeans sanction it, China entering the fray in the region after a recent state visit by President Hu Jintao to Afghanistan, and American diplomats leaving Syria following the veto by Israel and United States on Palestinian statehood at the United Nations and the veto by Russia and China on Syria, Koran burning by the very soldiers who are there to rebuild a chronically war-ravaged country makes the awesome majesty of the Afghan mountains seem awfully daunting even for NATO to climb. If Afghan winters are difficult for NATO commanders to navigate, the sweltering American and European summers are awaiting NATO at home. Spring still has some time to come.
There are two options for NATO. The first is to pack up and leave, to leave the game to Russia and China on P5+1. The second is to use military power. Counterinsurgency is no longer the middle ground in a region on the ring of fire of nuclear instability.