A leading Pakistani cleric is at the centre of a controversy over his remarks apparently endorsing suicide attacks in Palestine, Afghanistan and Kashmir, prompting Islamabad to formally distance itself from his comments.
In an interview with Afghanistan's ToloNews channel, All Pakistan Ulema Council chairman Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said jihad was permitted in all Muslim lands occupied by ‘outside forces’.
"I believe Palestine is occupied by Israel, Kashmir by India and Afghanistan by the United States. So if innocent Muslims don't have the atomic bomb, they have their lives and they sacrifice their lives for Allah," Ashrafi said in footage aired by the Afghan channel.
Ashrafi, also a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body that advises the Pakistan government on religious issues, said Pakistani clerics had issued a fatwa in 2002 against the killing of innocent people.
However, he said there was a ‘difference between killing innocents and a fight for independence’. The fighting in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine was a "jihad (being) waged by the oppressed against oppressors," he claimed.
Ashrafi's remarks drew angry responses from the Afghan Ulema Council, which said suicide attacks are unlawful under Islam and from Afghan National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
Ashrafi's remarks were also condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a joint news conference in Kabul on Monday.
"Our political opposition movements, civil society and other prominent Afghan leaders should unitedly stand to defend our country and let those who are sending the suicide bombers know that the Afghan people will never be defeated by these bombers," Spanta said.
Pakistan's foreign office issued a statement that sought to distance the government from Ashrafi's remarks. Foreign office spokesman Moazzam Khan clarified that ‘statements issued by private individuals did not reflect the views of the government of Pakistan’.
Khan further claimed Ashrafi had ‘denied making any such statement’.
Pakistan and its clerics had ‘repeatedly condemned suicide attacks and consider them repugnant to the teachings’ of Islam, he said. Plans to hold a conference of Pakistani and Afghan clerics to give a boost to the troubled peace process in Afghanistan were scuppered recently after Ashrafi insisted that the Taliban should be invited to the meeting.
He also claimed the Afghan clerics wanted to hold the conference simply to issue fatwas against the Taliban. During his interview with ToloNews, Ashrafi said peace would return to Pakistan and Afghanistan only if the US pulls its troops out of the region.
"If the US gets out of Afghanistan, there were will be peace in Pakistan... We ask America to leave the region so that the region can become peaceful," he said.