UN Chief in Afghanistan Calls for ‘Disciplinary Actions’ Against Those Involved in Qur’an ‘Desecration’

March 5, 2012 - 4:29 AM
Jan Kubis

Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Afghanistan, addresses a press conference in Kabul on Thursday, March 1, 2012. (UN Photo by Fardin Waezi)

(CNSNews.com) – The top United Nations official in Afghanistan has raised eyebrows with comments urging disciplinary action against those found to be responsible for damaging copies of the Qur’an at the U.S. military base in Bagram.

For Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Afghanistan, multiple U.S. apologies – including one from President Obama – and an order from International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Gen. John Allen that all 130,000 coalition troops in the country “complete training in the proper handling of religious materials” by this past Saturday, have not been sufficient.

“I agree with those who say that after this apology and after the investigation disciplinary actions should follow, those who were behind this grave mistake should be held accountable for it,” he told a press conference in Kabul on Thursday.

Only when such disciplinary steps had been taken, he said, would the ISAF forces “be able to say: ‘Yes, we are sincere.’”

The Pentagon says several copies of the Qur’an were unintentionally burned in a garbage pit at Bagram last month. Military sources said the texts had been used to carry extremist messages between militants detained at the base.

Public protests and violent rioting erupted after the news broke, resulting in the deaths of more than 30 people. Six U.S. soldiers have been shot dead.

A Western official told the Associated Press on Saturday that a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation had found that while mistakes were made, they were not intentional – and that at least five U.S. troops may face a disciplinary review.

During the press conference, Kubis referred to “the holy Qur’an” seven times. He expressed understanding for the strong reactions provoked by news of the burning.

“We deeply, deeply and profoundly respect Islam and we deeply respect the religious feelings, culture of our host country, Afghanistan,” he said. “That is why we were very hurt, as the United Nations, to see that other part of the international community, the international military, by mistake allowed this kind of desecration of the holy Qur’an.”

“It was natural that after such a grave mistake we saw expressions on the side of the people of Afghanistan, how they reject this desecration of holy Qur’an,” Kubis said. “We were very glad to notice that the majority of the demonstrations – and they are legitimate and expressions of rejection of this desecration – were peaceful.”

He also criticized the deadly violence, which he said was provoked by “irresponsible elements,” but made no call for the perpetrators to be brought to trial.

Asked about Kubis’ comments and the type of disciplinary action he had in mind for those found responsible for burning the Qur’ans, a spokesman for Ban, Martin Nesirky said in New York that the UNAMA head was not suggesting the U.N. would act against the culprits.

“He is simply expressing the view that in essence, an apology is not enough; you need to follow through from an apology to an investigation, and if warranted or merited on the outcome of that investigation, there should be disciplinary proceedings – but not within the framework of the United Nations.”

Kubis, a Soviet-educated Slovak diplomat who served as his country’s foreign minister from 2006 to 2009, was appointed to the Afghan position last November and assumed his post in January.

Under the U.N.’s “assessed” funding mechanism, American taxpayers account for 22 percent of UNAMA’s budget, a contribution amounting to $59 million in 2011.

During a House Foreign Committee hearing on Afghanistan last October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called UNAMA’s activities “essential to the safety and security of our troops, our civilian employees and the success of the transition.”

She expressed concern about a resolution, introduced in the House by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and approved by the committee a two weeks earlier, that would withhold 50 percent of the U.S. contribution to the U.N. until the U.N. starts moving from “assessed” to “voluntary” funding.

“[UNAMA is] an absolutely critical partner in building Afghan civilian capacity, monitoring human rights, supporting Afghan elections,” Clinton said.

“Everything we talked about today we partner closely on a literally hour-by-hour basis with UNAMA. And if we can’t depend on UNAMA, we will have to pay for and invent some other entity because we don’t have another partner that has the credibility or the reach that UNAMA has.”