Muslim Scholars Tackle Afghan Violence

Conflict deemed as un-Islamic by experts in Indonesia summit.

Muslim Scholars Tackle Afghan Violence

Conflict deemed as un-Islamic by experts in Indonesia summit.

The ongoing violence in Afghanistan has been condemned as illegal under Islamic law by religious scholars in a conference convened by the Afghan government.

However, observers say that although such initiatives might build stronger links between regional religious experts, more forceful political action was needed to make any substantive difference to the ongoing violence.

The summit was held in Bogor, Indonesia, on May 11 and attended by 60 religious scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. The conference followed an April visit by Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Pakistan and Afghanistan this year.

There have been a number of other summits in recent months aiming at invigorating peace talks between the Afghan government and the armed opposition.

The so-called Kabul Process, a format created in June 2017, held its second conference in February in the Afghan capital attended by representatives of some 25 countries.

President Ashraf Ghani proposed a deal that would see a ceasefire and the release of prisoners, as well as allow the Taleban to open an official office. In return, the insurgents would have to recognise his government and commit to respecting the rule of law.

More than 20 countries and international organisations then declared support for “the National Unity Government's offer to launch direct talks with the Taleban, without any preconditions” following another conference held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in March.

The Kabul summit’s resolutions were subsequently also affirmed at the Indonesia meeting.

Participants in the Indonesia conference issued a 12-part declaration, emphasising the importance of dialogue between the religious councils in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The declaration also called on the Taleban to renounce violence and respond positively to the peace process.

“We the Ulema, appreciate and support the offer of the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as announced by President Ashraf Ghani during the Kabul Peace Process, February 2018 for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” the declaration read.

But experts said that statements by religious scholars had to be put into context.  

 “The Indonesia conference cannot solve Afghanistan’s issues or be that effective,” said political analyst Javid Kohistani. “First of all, Indonesian scholars do not have a close relationship with their Afghan counterparts, and do not understand Afghan affairs very well. We would have had better results had the conference had been convened in one of the neighbouring countries. We should start holding peace talks in Peshawar and Quetta, where the opposition parties are based.”

Hameed, 27, an English student living in Kabul, said that he had little confidence in the integrity of religious scholars in Pakistan, as they were simply mouthpieces for the views of the government.

Any realistic hopes for peace needed to involve direct talks with the government of Pakistan and its intelligence body, he continued, noting that previous conferences had all ended in failure.

“If Pakistan wants to, it could bring peace to Afghanistan within a month because over the years it was always Pakistan who supported the opponents of the Afghan government, especially the Taleban,” Hameed said. “If they cut this support and do not shelter them in their country, they will be forced to enter into negotiations with the Afghan government.

“But Pakistan is doing the opposite; it supports and encourages insurgent groups to fight in Afghanistan. So it’s necessary for the Afghan government to hold talks with the government of Pakistan about peace in Afghanistan.”

Although the participation of Pakistani scholars in the Bogor meeting was seen as significant, they made no claims of impartiality.

Mawlavi Anwar-ul-Haq Haqani, the dean of the Haqani Madressa in Pakistan, was part of the delegation to the Indonesia event. As soon as the conference ended, he said that his group of attendees had come to the summit on behalf of the Taleban and thus had refused to let anyone issue any binding decrees about the conflict.

In a video message broadcast an hour after the event concluded, he said, “Throughout the talks, neither the issue of a ceasefire nor any other decision was discussed, and we did not allow the Taleban to be named Taleban either.”

However, Afghan scholars who attended the talks had a more positive attitude, describing the Indonesian event as a productive first step towards further dialogue that could be supported by other scholars from the Islamic world.

Mawlavi Abdul Khabir Ochqoon, deputy of the Afghan High Peace Council, said that conference could boost relations between Afghan and Pakistani scholars, noting that a further summit was planned for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

“Those who use religious narratives as a tool in the Afghan war, we try to take such tools from them,” he said.  “These dialogues and conferences are very helpful, and we aim to get buy-in from more Islamic scholars to support the declaration that war in Afghanistan is unlawful.”

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