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Will fatwa by scholars force Taliban to join talks?

10 May 2018 Al Jazeera

Prominent Muslim scholars from three countries are set to meet in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Friday, aimed at finding a solution to decades of war and bloodshed in Afghanistan.

At the trilateral Ulema Conference, scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia will discuss challenging the narrative of "jihad", or a holy war, pushed by the Taliban armed group to free the country from the US-led forces.

The Taliban was ousted from power in 2001 after the US forces invaded Afghanitan in the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York.

Scholars hope the move could persuade Taliban, which has been running a bloody armed rebellion since 2001, to the negotiating table, but analysts say it could have the opposite effect.

...any religious pronouncement against the Taliban or their extremist tactics could strip Taliban's religious legitimacy, which is the last thing they want to hear

Javid Ahmed, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council

Akram Khpalwak, head of the Afghan government's High Peace Council (HPC) secretariat, who will attend the Jakarta summit, hoped the participants will reach a mutual agreement and release a fatwa - a religious edict issued by an expert in Islamic law - to persuade the Taliban into entering peace negotiations with the Afghan officials.

But that seems unlikely, with the Taliban turning down an invitation to the conference being organised by the Indonesian government.

'Surrender of Mujahideen'

In a statement in March, the Taliban, which control or exercise influence in 13 percent of the 408 districts in the country, called the conference "un-Islamic" and urged all Islamic scholars to refrain from participating.

"The invaders [referring to the foreign troops in Afghanistan] have employed various stratagems to prolong their indirect occupation, an important part of which is called the 'Peace Process' which seeks the surrender of Mujahideen [religious fighters]," the statement said.

Javid Ahmed, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in the US who has been covering counterterrorism issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the Taliban were concerned by the conference.

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This is because "any religious pronouncement against the Taliban or their extremist tactics could strip Taliban's religious legitimacy, which is the last thing they want to hear".

"It may also marginally curb the Taliban recruitment."

Borhan Osman, an Afghan senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, said a scholarly discussion on the religious dimension of the war in Afghanistan is unprecedented.

"The idea by the Afghan government to get a fatwa from Ulamas [Islamic scholars] to delegitimise the Taliban's fight as jihad floated seven years ago, but had never made headway until now," he told Al Jazeera.

However, he added: "It is yet to be known how big an impact such a meeting would have, especially as it is not an independent initiative, but undertaken at the request of the Afghan government."

Khpalwak, meanwhile acknowledged, that it will be difficult to achieve the conference's goal as some Pakistani scholars agree with the Taliban narrative of "jihad".

What we expect from them is to contribute to ending the foreign occupation in the country and by extension, to bring peace

Senior Taliban member based in Doha

"I believe whatever agreement we reach on will be in the best interest of Afghanistan, as we will do everything according to the Islamic law," he said.

A senior member of the Taliban's political office in Doha, Qatar, who declined to be named, said the group expected Indonesia to work on steps towards ending the "foreign occupation" in Afghanistan, instead of issuing a "fatwa".

"What we [Taliban] expect from them [the Ulemas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia] is to contribute to ending the foreign occupation in the country and by extension, to bring peace," he said.

In the first three months of 2018, more than 700 civilians have been killed and nearly 1,500 injured in a series of explosions and suicide attacks carried out by the Taliban and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to UN's mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

With such staggering amount of civilian casualties, it is yet to be determined how big an impact the conference would make towards peace in the country especially since the Taliban considers the Afghan government as "puppets" of American forces.

"The ideal situation in an effort to bring peace in Afghanistan would be if the Taliban respond to peace proposal in good faith, negotiate an immediate ceasefire, appoint a peace envoy and a negotiating team, and begin to engage in direct talks with Afghanistan - and the United States," said Ahmed of the Atlantic Council.

Original Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/fatwa-islamic-scholars-force-taliban-join-talks-180507153413480.html

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