The United Nations is struggling to remain relevant in Afghanistan. At the heart of the UN’s challenge is a growing perception that it has lost the trust and respect of Afghan leaders, as well as considerable segment of the general public.
The UN’s delicate position was highlighted by the April 1 attack against a UN compound in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, an incident that left three UN staffers and four UN security guards dead. In an effort to defuse tension and restore its image among Afghans, UN officials quickly blamed Islamic radicals for the violence. The tragedy was the outgrowth of a mass demonstration against the burning of a Koran by Terry Jones, an extremist pastor in Florida. According to the UN version of events, a small group of militants, numbering no more than 15, infiltrated a mob of about 3,000 and somehow redirected its fury toward the UN compound. In singling out militants for responsibility, the UN apparently wants to downplay the possibility that widespread public anger with the UN played a role in the tragedy. At least four Afghans, in addition to UN personnel, died in the April 1 incident.
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Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul.