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|April 25, 2001||
Deoband and the Indo-Pak equation
An estimated half a million delegates recently attended the International Deoband Conference at Taro Jaba near Peshawar. While the bulk of the delegates came from madrassas in Pakistan, there were also a number of them from Afghanistan and India.
The conference was organised by the Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam of Pakistan headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a cleric from the North West Frontier Province. Libya had sent a high-ranking envoy, Abdullah Jibran, to the conference. He read out a special message from Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi. According to reports from Pakistan a number of Deobandi leaders from India attended the conference including the highly respected Maulana Asad Madni and the vice-chancellor of the Dar ul Uloom, Deoband, Maulana Marghoob-ul-Rahman.
The organisers of the conference, the JUI, have a continuing history of support for terrorist groups made up of fundamentalist, religious fanatics. They came into prominence during the CIA and ISI-supported struggle against Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
They were somewhat marginalised by General Zia-ul Haq, who extended greater support to groups close to the Jamat Islami, then headed by a relative of General Zia -- Mian Tufial Ahmed. But, when the Benazir Bhutto government decided to arm and train a new force for the ISI's Afghan jehad in 1996, they turned to their coalition partner Maulana Fazlur Rahman to provide the cadres and leadership of the Taleban from the madrassas the JUI controlled in the NWFP and Baluchistan.
The Taleban emerged from these madrassas to take control of most of Afghanistan with the active support of the ISI that provided arms, training and even officers and men from the Pakistan army, to participate in its military operations.
The JUI has not confined its activities to supporting the Taleban alone. When the ISI decided that secular groups like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front had to be sidelined in Jammu and Kashmir, it started supporting fanatical Jehadi terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul Ansar, which is now known as the Harkat-ul Mujahideen. It is well known that the supporters of the Harkat are linked to the JUI and that they have camps in Pakistan and in Taleban controlled areas of Afghanistan.
The hijacking of IC-814 to Kandahar was organised by the Harkat-ul Mujahideen. The detained Harkat leader Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released and taken to Kandahar in the wake of the hijacking, of IC-814, was and is a close friend and associate of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. The hijackers including the brother of Maulana Masood Azhar were all supporters and members of the Harkat.
Azhar has now set up a new terrorist outfit called the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The UP police recently gunned down three terrorists of the Jaish near Lucknow. Maulana Rahman has also made no secret of his sympathy and support for Chechen separatists and their jehad against Russia. Thus, the conference near Peshawar was organized by people who are internationally known as being religious extremists, given to supporting Jehadi causes and terrorism across the world.
The highlight of the three-day conference near Peshawar from April 8 to April 11 was the prominence given to the messages of Colonel Qadhafi, the Taleban leader Mullah Omar and the international terrorist, Osama bin Laden. In his message read out by Taleban Deputy Foreign Minister Mullah Ahsan Akhund, Mullah Omar slammed the United Nations as a western tool and claimed that Muslims were being oppressed in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya. He asserted that Muslim countries were being subjected to all forms of aggression by non-Muslim powers, with the United Nations doing nothing to help Muslims and Muslim countries. Osama bin Laden described Mullah Omar as a "champion leader" because of his actions like the destruction of the statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan and for resisting armed attacks from "anti-Muslim elements".
The delegates from India quite obviously did not want to be drawn into the controversies that were bound to arise because of the rhetoric of Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and Maulana Fazlur Rahman. Maulana Asad Madni, who was the chief guest at the concluding session, confined himself to praying for Allah's religion to be observed by Muslims. Maulana Marghoobul Rahman made a scholarly speech referring to the educational, literary and political achievements of Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband. He urged Muslims to refrain from aggression so that they are not labeled as terrorists or fundamentalists.
In marked contrast, their host Maulana Fazlur Rahman strongly criticised the United Nations for its alleged hostility to the Muslim world. He poured venom on the United States and voiced support for the "oppressed Muslims" in Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia and Chechnya.
The resolutions adopted by the International Deoband Conference have far reaching implications. One resolution expressed concern over the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia and called on the Saudi government to expel the troops of the US and its allies from the Muslim holy land. This is a demand that has been consistently been voiced by Osama bin Laden. The conference thus became a tool of extremists who would not hesitate to criticize and destabilize the governments of Gulf Arab States. Another resolution called for the formation of a united Muslim bloc outside the United Nations to "liberate" Palestine and Jerusalem.
Given the close association of the JUI with virulently anti-Shia groups like the Sipah-e-Sahiba in Pakistan and the Taleban in Afghanistan, even Iran is not going to welcome the causes espoused by the conference, despite its strongly anti-American overtones. More importantly, such a conference could never have been held in Pakistan that is ruled by a military dictatorship, without the support and encouragement of the military government itself.
General Pervez Musharraf's government has, after all, banned political gatherings and even prevented foreign travel by political leaders whenever it found it necessary to do so. The permission accorded to the JUI to host the conference clearly indicates that General Musharraf has signaled to people in Pakistan that he understands and supports the causes espoused by the Taleban and Osama bin Laden.
Despite the rhetoric of Mullah Omar and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the resolution on Kashmir adopted by the conference is balanced. This resolution merely calls on the political leadership of India and Pakistan to find a peaceful and just solution to the Kashmir problem to save the sub-continent and Asia from nuclear confrontation.
This resolution must have been something of a disappointment to the organizers, the fundamentalist Jehadi groups in Pakistan and to General Musharraf and his government. It is quite obvious that neither Maulana Madni nor Maulana Marghoob-ul Rahman would have countenanced the sentiments voiced by their hosts and Mullah Omar about Kashmir being reflected in the conference resolution. It is to their credit that this was made abundantly clear to their hosts.
The Dar-ul-Uloom and the Deobandi leadership are held in high regard not only in India, but also throughout their world, primarily because they have sought to emphasise the egalitarian and spiritual values of Islam. Their role during India's struggle for independence when they rejected proposals for partition of the country gives them a place of honour and respect in India.
But the leaders in Deoband would have to ask themselves honestly whether it is not a fact that religious bigots like Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden have tarnished the name of Deoband and the tenets of Islam, by their practices and the policies they espouse. Was not the name of Deoband hijacked by such people to organise a conference that extolled bigotry and violence and seriously sought to undermine the policies of governments in friendly Arab countries like Saudi Arabia?
It is time for those who cherish the values that Deoband has consistently stood for and espoused, to openly disassociate themselves from the resolutions passed and the extremist and bigoted views expressed at the conference they attended.
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