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Taliban changes strategy; targets clerics opposed to jihad: Report

August 04, 2003 11:46 IST

In a change of strategy, members of the Taliban are killing Muslim clerics who oppose the call for jihad or holy war against American and foreign troops in Afghanistan, a media report in New York said on Monday.

The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan, was overthrown after the September 9, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The US accused the Taliban of sheltering those behind the 9/11 attacks, specifically Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Since then, US troops have been helping the Hamid Karzai establish its authority in the country.

The Taliban, The New York Times says, has been running a campaign of attacks against foreign and Afghan troops in Afghanistan for months, but in recent days, they have killed five Muslim clerics, including Maulavi Abdul Manan, known as Maulavi Jebab, a member of the local district council, in Kandahar province.

Manan was shot as he left his mosque last week.

On June 30, the head of Kandahar's Ulema-u-Shura, or Clerics' Council, Maulavi Abdul Fayaz, narrowly escaped death when a bomb exploded in his mosque as he was leading the evening prayers.

Twenty-seven people were injured, 14 seriously, in the incident, the NYT said quoting council members.

The killings, the paper said, come amid increased Taliban activity in southern Afghanistan.

Local officials reported capturing 20 Taliban suspects in the last few days in two operations in Kandahar province, one against a band of Taliban who killed two government soldiers last week.

The authorities also caught a Taliban member trying to plant a mine meant to kill the governor of Oruzgan province, north of Kandahar.

Maulavi Muhammad Haq Khattib, deputy head of the  Kandahar Clerics' Council, was quoted as saying that the Taliban had undoubtedly attacked clerics.

"According to the villagers and local elders, they (the clerics who were attacked) had no enemies," he said in an interview in his office in Kandahar.

"It was because of their support for the government."

The 15-member Kandahar Ulema-u-Shura and its branches in the districts have been vocal supporters of President Hamid Karzai and have welcomed the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the paper said.

Appointed by the governor of Kandahar, the council members are keepers of the city's most hallowed shrines and are among the most senior tribal and religious figures, the NYT said.

By challenging the Taliban movement at the core of its legitimacy - its claim as a religious authority - the Ulema-u-Shura has drawn direct reprisals against its members.

"The Taliban are saying they are religious people, but they are using force to get their aims and are using the cover of Islam," Maulavi Khattib said.

"But we say this is not Islam. Islam does not support the use of force, and we are

telling people not to fight."

Seven months ago, the council issued a religious edict denouncing the Taliban's call for holy war against the American-led forces in Afghanistan.

Unlike the Soviets, whose intervention in the 1980's was intended to occupy the country and so justified a holy war, the American-led force had come to expel terrorists and bring peace and had the backing of the United Nations, Maulavi Khattib said.

In his interview with the NYT, Khattib gave other reasons that a holy war could not be called. He said that the government had been elected, and that a religious council had no right to call a holy war against a government chosen by the people.

The Ulema-u-Shura edict, signed by dozens of clerics, says of the Taliban: "They are saying that foreign troops have captured our country and they are calling to start a jihad against them. In the name of jihad, they are killing as many people as they want."

"Respected Muslim brothers, you know the situation: you are witness that the president of our country is a Muslim, and his vice presidents and all members of the cabinet and

government authorities are Muslims," the edict reads.

"No one has said you should stop going to the mosque or stop praying, so for what reason is this a place of fighting?"

The Taliban, the NYT said, has denounced the Clerics' Council, leaving threatening leaflets in mosques and bazaars.

"They wrote that people who work with the government would be harshly punished, and

religious people would be doubly punished," Maulavi Khattib said.


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