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September 13, 2012

Afghanistan, Pakistan Brace for Anti-Islam Film Protests

by Sharon Behn

Afghanistan and Pakistan are bracing for demonstrations against the anti-Islamic movie released on the Internet that has sparked deadly protests in Libya and elsewhere this week.  Three Muslim groups are calling for marches in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Government leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan have condemned the movie, seen as offensive to followers of Islam. The obscure, independent film made in the United States has prompted attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya.

Protests in Benghazi killed four Americans this week, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.  Demonstrations have since spread to other countries in the Muslim world.
 
Speaking in Kabul on Thursday, Australian Army Brigadier General Roger Noble, deputy commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said that soon after the protests in Libya and Egypt, talks were held with the Afghan security forces about the potential for violence.
 
“Without going into detail, what we are trying to do is minimize the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or inadvertently putting ourselves in a position which might inflame a protest or people who gather together in the next few days," he said.
 
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has postponed his trip to Norway in light of the violent protests in other Muslim-majority countries against what he called an insulting film made by extremists.
 
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said in a statement that the film was “insulting to people of goodwill of all faiths,” but that it did not merit a violent response.
 
Last year, more than 20 people were killed in riots in Afghanistan after American pastor Terry Jones burned a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in Florida.
 
The Taliban in Afghanistan, which has accused the United States government of supporting the movie, is calling for the film to be denounced during Friday’s prayers.
 
In Pakistan, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government is monitoring the situation.
 
“We have already put in place instructions that no one should be able to watch any anti-Islam material on YouTube, and I am sure no one in Pakistan can access it,” said Malik.
 
But Pakistan’s far-right Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami political party is calling on its supporters to hold protests after Friday's Muslim prayers to denounce what it called a “shameful movie sponsored by the USA against Islam.”
 
Two other groups have announced plans to demonstrate in Islamabad on Friday.  One of them says it plans to march on the U.S. embassy, which is located in a walled-off and guarded diplomatic enclave.
 
Islamabad police say they have beefed up security around U.S. diplomatic missions across the country.