Is this Afghanistan’s Tahrir Square?

In Afghanistan, an estimated 10,000 people have marched on Kabul’s presidential palace in Pashtunistan square, demanding better peace and security. The protest began as a funeral procession for seven people of Hazara ethnicity beheaded by alleged ISIS militants after being kidnapped in the ‪Arghandab district of ‪Zabul province. It has swelled into a broad-based demand for safety and security in Afghanistan.

Approximately 1000 protestors were allowed into the presidential compound and are now occupying parts of the grounds. Asif Ashna, deputy spokesman for the government chief executive, has resigned in order to join the protestors. Police have fired shotsin an attempt to disperse the protestors, although reports vary as to where they have fired on the crowd or into the air above. Either way, at least six injuries have been reported by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.

The protestors are demanding peace and security. One protestor, Maryam Jamal, had this to say. “It can be me tomorrow, can be my children. This protest is historic and we are adamant to not back off until something is done about this. We’ve had enough.”Afghan President Ashraf Ghani agrees. He formally acceded to protestor demands not long after they breached the compound,going on live TV to promise the government would have no mercy on the killers.

We could question whether the protestors are aiming their ire in the correct direction. The Afghan military didn’t kill the Hazara hostages. This protest however, seems to be a demand for the government to do something the government already desperately wants to do. There are many actors who have been accused of blocking peace efforts in Afghanistan. Ghani, however, is not one of them. The issue here is not government will for peace, but the military’s ability to produce it.

We could also question where the sudden protest energy has come from. The deaths were tragic, undoubtedly. But Afghanistan has seen a lot of tragedy in the last decade; even the deaths of women and children are not new. One theory has Karzai instigating the protests, arguing that he’s playing spoiler to make trouble for the Ghani administration and someday return a hero. In Afghanistan, however, there are a hundred conspiracy theories for every event. This kidnapping of these seven people may simply have been the last straw in a country that now faces both Taliban and ISIS violence. No instigator necessary.

Whatever the proximate cause of this massive protest may be, the fact is that the people of Afghanistan are angry, exhausted, and yearning for peace and security. Storming the presidential palace is probably not the way to get it, but it is apparently the only option they have.