Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Culture wars: The burning of the Koran


U.S. President Barack Obama has apologised for the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a military base in Afghanistan and the top general in the country has ordered all coalition troops to undergo training in the proper handling of religious materials by March 3.

Quite apart from the question of how can you “inadvertently” burn books, the bigger issue is can soldiers be so blindly ignorant of the consequences of their action ? Is it because these were soldiers in the rear, insulated  in a huge base that  sometimes feels like a little America with its gymns, snack joints and the easy conviviality between men and women, a setting far removed from the hard-scrabble country outside ?

On the other hand, troops who have to step out of the wire or those directly in harm’s way in  their combat outposts, say for instance in Kunar in the east, would know instinctively the anger such desecration of the holy book would provoke.

This is not to say that the men on the frontlines of Afghanistan’s longest military entanglement have consistently exhibited exemplary behaviour. Only last month the top generals were again rushing to contain the damage after a video surfaced in which U.S. Marines deployed in southern Helmand province appeared to be urinating on Taliban corpses.