A powerful group of clerics has gathered in Lahore and issued a fatwa against a freewheeling concept of jihad and the use of suicide-bombing in Pakistan. As if in exchange, it has also asked the government to stop military operations in the Tribal Areas and conduct "negotiations" with the terrorists there to end the state of militancy that has laid Pakistan low. The Mutahidda Ulema Council statement has asserted that "only the state has the authority to call for jihad (holy war), and individuals or groups are not authorized to do that".
The conference that issued the statement was attended by all the important schools of clerical thought in the country: Jama'at Ahle Sunnat (Barelvi), Ahle Tashayyo (Shia), Ahle-Hadith, Jama'at-e Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Deobandi), and the banned Sipah-e Sahaba (Deobandi). Therefore, on the face of it at least, the factions that endorsed the Council call comprised all the jurisprudential brands of Islam known in Pakistan. Also present were "renamed" versions of the banned militias known for their past jihadi activities.
The venue was Jamia Naeemia, known for its extremely stringent verdicts on the religious backslidings of the state, presided over by its firebrand leader Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi. This was meant to show that the fatwa was not being issued by "moderate ulema" who are no longer in vogue in Pakistan but a Deobandi-Ahle Hadith consensus that was not known in the past to issue such religious verdicts. In fact, when in 2005 a group of moderate ulema led by Mufti Munibur Rehman issued a fatwa against suicide-bombing, the group was condemned and also threatened by other radical ulema and their militant followers.
The gathering also put forward other views that can fall in the category of demands. Apart from the crucial demand that military operations in the Tribal Areas should be stopped forthwith, the ulema put forward other "items of the agenda": they want General Musharraf's pacts with the United States to be made public, Iran to be made an ally in place of America, and that for Iran's case to be brought up at the OIC. Along with other angry references to America, the US-India nuclear deal was also condemned and deemed dangerous to Pakistan.
The big demand was the ceasefire in Bajaur and Swat. But it is the other demand, the stricture on suicide-bombing, which has been welcomed by the Interior Adviser, Mr Rehman Malik. Assuming that there are two respondents to the Council's call, it is now up to Islamabad and those who run the campaign of terrorism to step up and comply with their pledges. It goes without saying that the Council, while reviewing the results of its call, will condemn Al Qaeda and the Taliban only if the government in Islamabad calls off the operation in the Tribal Areas.
The heavyweights at the Council gathering in Lahore also have electoral and "power" stakes in the Bajaur Agency, which is under pressure from a rather successful military operation. The local population has to endure the fallout of the ongoing battles while a number of tribes have formed their own lashkars against the terrorists to indicate some measure of actual success achieved by the army. The Council demands, while putting the onus of doctrinal abstraction on Al Qaeda and Taliban, require the Pakistan Army to retreat in concrete terms.
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