While it is still too early to say who were the killers of the seven United Nations employees here last week, senior police officials say they suspect current or former Taliban members or other insurgents of leading the violence, aided by sympathizers and hard-line mullahs who whipped up a crowd of thousands angered by a Koran burning in the United States.
Whether the killings were planned or not, the violence has proved to be a disturbing gauge of the depths of Taliban influence in this progressive northern city, and of its potential to foment unrest.
Perhaps most unsettling for Western and Afghan officials, former Taliban fighters who were supposed to have switched loyalties as part of an American-financed program were among those who snatched weapons from guards at the United Nations compound that was ransacked, police officials said. Three who were living under police protection just a few blocks away have been arrested.
That former Taliban fighters may have been involved raises serious questions about the American-backed reintegration programme, which is an important element in the strategy to wean Taliban fighters from the insurgency and for President Hamid Karzai to forge peace.
Fewer Taliban members than envisioned have taken advantage of the program, which has received $50 million in American financing. Even for those who have, the violence shows, getting them to change sides may be easier than changing their minds.
It is just one of many quandaries raised by the deadly events that began with protests against the burning of a Koran by the pastor Terry Jones in Florida but ended with a mob killing three United Nations staff members - a Swedish human rights officer, a Norwegian pilot, a Romanian political officer — and four Nepalese guards. Five Afghan civilians were also killed when the police fired on the crowd, and 20 were wounded.
As demonstrations continue to ripple across the country, some of them violent, larger questions are being raised as to how serious the government is about protecting foreigners working in Afghanistan and the ability of the Afghan security forces to take over security in broad parts of the country from international forces in the months ahead.
Diplomats say the horror and scale of the attack in Mazar are a turning point in the relationship between the government and its Western backers, with many questioning .
“One day we will have to analyze why the protests only took place in Afghanistan,” said Staffan de Mistura, the head of United Nations mission in Afghanistan.