American and Afghan officials investigating the Quran-burning episode that has brought relations between the countries to a new low say that the destruction could have been headed off at several points along a chain of mishaps,poor judgments and ignored procedures,according to interviews over the past week.
Even as Americans have raced to ease Afghan outrage over the burning,releasing information on Friday that American service members could face disciplinary action,accounts from more than a dozen Americans and Afghans involved in investigating the incineration laid out a complex string of events that will do little to assuage an Afghan public that,in some quarters,has called for deaths to avenge the sacrilege.
The crisis over the burning,carried out by American soldiers near the detention center in Parwan on February 20 brought a short-term halt to cooperation between the Americans and Afghans,and has complicated almost every aspect of planning and negotiation for a military withdrawal. At least 29 Afghans and 6 American soldiers have died in the subsequent violence over the past week.
On Friday,an American official close to a joint Afghan-American investigation into the episode noted that the final report would call for disciplinary review for at least six people involved in the Quran burning,including American military leaders and an American interpreter. Afghans familiar with the case described the interpreter as an Afghan-American.
The same day,the pre-eminent body of Afghan religious leaders,the Ulema Council,which conducted its own inquiry,demanded that the United States immediately hand over prison operations to the Afghan government,and publicly punish those involved in the Quran burning. There is also a formal United States military inquiry.
The responses highlighted continuing and deep differences between American and Afghan concepts of justice: American officials insist that no deliberate insult was intended and that the military justice system and apologies should suffice,while the Afghan religious leaders demand that public identification and punishment of the offenders is the only path to soothe the outrage of Afghans,over what they see as an unforgivable desecration of Gods words.
There are some crimes that cannot be forgiven,but that need to be punished, said Maulavi Khaliq Dad,a member of the Ulema Council. This is not any book; this is the book of the whole Muslim nation,and if a few people are punished,America will not be destroyed. But if that doesnt happen,it will create animosity and enmity between America and the Muslim world.
An American military official familiar with the joint investigation somberly described the burning as a tragedy, but rejected any suggestion that the action was intentional.