Pakistan and Taliban find differences over interpretation of Islam

Taliban afghanistan

The Taliban has enforced Sharia laws based on their own interpretation of Islamic Afghanistan. The orthodoxy within the Taliban and its societal impact on Afghan society undoubtedly will also impact Pakistani society at some point in time. Writing in the Dawn newspaper, columnist Mohammed Amir Rana, claims that Pakistan is among those Muslim countries that have distanced themselves from the Afghan Taliban’s conception and enforcement of Islamic laws. The ideological influence of the Taliban, a hardline Sunni organization on Pakistan, is today visible in the form of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Every step that the Taliban has taken to enforce Sharia and make the women of Afghanistan outcasts in their own land, pushes Pakistan further away from its historical links with the Taliban much to its discomfort.

The Taliban’s actions against Afghan women, denying them education and their basic rights, has led even the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take notice and remind the Taliban to mend their ways. The response of women in Afghanistan to Taliban’s decrees is best exemplified by the solitary protest by a 18-year old student named Marwa, who stood defiantly at the entrance of Kabul University (27 December) holding up a placard with just one word in Arabic, Iqra, which means ‘read’, a commandment prescribed for all Muslims. Her sister took pictures of the solo protest and provided them to many journalists in Kabul.Hamid Mir, the well-known Pakistani journalist notes that even religious scholars in Pakistan have asked the Taliban to reverse its decision on banning women’s education, and their activities in society. Little wonder then that even countries like Qatar have taken a step back towards recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

In December 2022, the 57 OIC member countries held a special meeting on Afghanistan and urged the Taliban to abide by the “principles and purposes” enshrined in the United Nations Charter.The OIC also called on the Taliban to reconsider the “un-Islamic” ban on women education and launched a campaign to teach the Taliban the real Islam that encourages education for women. The OIC Executive Committee, headed by Saudi Arabia, met again in January 2023 to discuss Afghanistan. The meeting inter alia, recalled that “the right of women and girls to access all levels of education, including university level, is a fundamental right in keeping with the teachings of the noble Islamic shariah”. Additionally, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University declared (25 December 2022) that the Taliban’s ban on women education contradicted Islamic law.The Islamic world is thus rightly worried about the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam as it poses a political challenge. Today, many Islamic societies have developed compatibility with modern values of freedom and human rights. However, the Taliban leaders insist that their policies are based on Islamic jurisprudence.

Pakistan has its own problems when dealing with the Taliban’s interpretation and implementation of the Sharia. As Amir Rana argues in the Dawn, the deep state is today more concerned about the TTP and other Taliban associates,who have challenged the strategic views of Pakistan. This derives from the TTP head, Noor Wali Mehsud, recently affirming that his group was waging a ‘jihad’ that teachers in Pakistani madrassas had preached.In the video message, Mehsud says that the TTP
jihad was launched in the light of the fatwas given by Pakistani ulema, and “if there is any deficiency, and omission from us in the implementation of this fatwa, or if we have changed our jihadi direction, then you guide us and argue, [and] we are ready to listen to your arguments”. This is a serious issue for the ulema, as the TTP “consider[s] your silence in our favour [akin to] fighting side by side with us”. Effectively, the TTP has thrown the gauntlet to the ulema in Pakistan to support their cause, it remains to be seen what happens next.

While it is true that Pakistani religious scholars had partnered with the Taliban in the latter’s conception of the ‘Islamic Emirate’,the Pakistani ulema today has revisited their previously held views after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021. That revision came as a wave of religiously motivated violence and hatred undermined the very foundations of Afghan society.Just before the TTP video message was released, a group of Pakistani ulema, issued another fatwa on the lines of Paigham-i-Pakistan, (issued in January 2018) declaring that no individual or group of people had the right to declare jihad, as this was the sole prerogative of the state. Trying to counter such arguments, the TTP has changed the organisation’s structure, converting the militant group into a ‘wilayah’ (government) and announcing the formation of a parallel ‘governance’ system in the tribal districts. The Taliban and the TTP also argue that the Darul Uloom Deoband, from where they derive their ideological and political strength, had driven out the British from the Indian subcontinent, and Mujahideen groups had crushed the Soviet Union and forced NATO to leave Afghanistan.

Paigham-i-Pakistan launched on 15 January 2018, comprised in its first part, a preamble providing a contextual analysis of the ideological and political situation. The second part contained a set of religious decrees, initially signed by 1,829 religious scholars representing all religious schools of thought in the country. The declaration categorically condemned terrorism, sectarian hatred, armed sectarian conflict and the imposition of one’s ideology on others by force. Scholars, who had signed the declaration, also pledged they would work for a society based on democracy, liberty, equality, tolerance, harmony, mutual respect, and justice to achieve a congenial atmosphere for peaceful coexistence. Interestingly, a few heads of banned sectarian and militant organisations also signed the declaration, including ulema supporting jihad in Afghanistan and Jammu &Kashmir.

The Pakistan ulema today, thus faces the challenge of protecting its interest vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The strict implementation of the Sharia by the Afghan Taliban today finds resistance from many countries in the Islamic world. Pakistan is uniquely placed because it had originally created the Taliban and supported its ideology. Today, the ulema in Pakistan may have realised the risks of permitting an ideological war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially when their own words are quoted. For Pakistan itself, the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam creates new complications, both ideological and political which in the medium term, complicates the already tenuous ties between Islamabad and Kabul.

Nadia Abdel is a columnist for Al Arabiya Post.

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