Karzai Spokesman: ‘The President’s Primary Concern’ Was To Inform Afghans That Jones Burned The Quran

Protests continued in Afghanistan today as thousands have fled into the streets to protest radical Florida pastor Terry Jones’s Quran burning which took place late last month. Hundreds have been wounded in violence and dozens have died, including 7 UN workers in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The New York Times reported on Saturday that the media had largely ignored Jones’s stunt, and it was mainly Afghan President Hamid Karzai that brought the issue to life. Karzai “provoked people to take such actions. Karzai should have called on people to be patient rather than making people more angry,” one Afghan political analyst said.

Karzai has been widely criticized for publicizing the Jones incident. “He’s an extortionist,” said NYU professor and author Irshad Manji on CNN last night, adding, “he is now currying favor with the extremist elements in Afghanistan in the hope, perhaps a vain hope, they will preserve his life. Never mind how many other people get killed.” The Washington Post also noted:

[M]any U.S. and other Western officials in Afghanistan say Karzai has played a more damaging role. They say that his initial statement condemning Jones four days after the March 20 Koran burning was provocative and that it informed many Afghans of an event that was not widely known and helped mobilize public anger toward the United States. […]

“When I read his statements and accusations against Americans, it’s like an amazing sense of his willingness just to humiliate,” said one Western diplomat here. “It’s not that he would like to confront the issue in partnership but just to retaliate through humiliation, like someone owes him something.”

While Karzai originally appeared to be bothered by Jones’s affront to Islam, a Karzai spokesman said his “primary concern” was getting information out about Jones’ exploit to ordinary Afghans:

“This is a very religious Islamic country, and the president is the leader of this Muslim country,” said Waheed Omer, a Karzai spokesman. “The president saw it as his moral and religious duty on behalf of the Afghan people to condemn this.

“People would have been informed anyway. This was something that would not have kept a low profile in a country like Afghanistan,” he said. “The president’s primary concern was not to prevent this information from getting to the people of Afghanistan.”

So essentially, Omer appeared to admit that Karzai was motivated more so by politics than by his concerns about Jones’s act. Al Jazeera’s DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara agreed. “I think he’s trying to stir the pot in the hope it will bolster his political position,” he said yesterday on MSNBC.