Order has been restored to the western Afghanistan city of Herat, after violent protests left at least seven people dead and dozens wounded. The protests followed President Hamid Karzai's removal of Ismail Khan as military governor of Herat province. Hundreds of angry demonstrators burned and looted the offices of several United Nations agencies. President Karzai says non-violent protests are permitted in Afghanistan, but when dissent ceases to be peaceful, authorities will act:
“Anybody that resorts to violence against U-N offices, or against human rights offices, these are rioters, these are people that are hurting peace and stability and the dignity of Herat and the dignity of Afghanistan. And that is not what this country wants. That is not what the people of Herat want, and we will deal with them strongly.”
President Karzai said his decision to replace Ismail Khan with Sayed Mohammed Khair Khuwa was in the public interest:
“We found it necessary to bring a change in Herat in order for Herat to see a better chance of more security and participation in the political process in Afghanistan. This is a decision for the good of Ismail Khan and for the good of the country and for the good of the people of Herat.”
In August, Ismail Khan's forces, mostly ethnic Tajiks, fought with ethnic Pashtun militiamen commanded by Amanullah Khan. More than one-thousand-five-hundred Afghan government troops were needed to quell the fighting. Human rights monitors say that members of Ismail Khan's security forces have committed numerous human rights abuses.
Reaction in Herat to Ismail Khan's removal is mixed. A street vendor told the Reuters news agency, “We wanted a change because Ismail Khan was very tough in terms of social freedoms.”
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad called on Afghans to cooperate with the new governor in Herat. “A great deal of progress has been achieved over the past several years, and Afghanistan should build on this success,” said Mr. Khalizad. “Security, reconstruction, and the development of democratic institutions are important for all Afghans, including the people of the west,” he said, “And the rights of all must be respected.”