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Top Pakistani Religious Leader Rejects Use Of Political Violence

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, head of the country's largest religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (file photo)

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, head of the country's largest religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (file photo)

A prominent Pakistani religious and political leader says his party rejects the use of violence as a means to political ends, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, head of the country's largest religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), said his party fully endorses a unanimous decision taken by religious leaders in Lahore three years ago dissociating themselves from suicide attacks.

Rahman's party was part of the coalition government until it pulled out in December in protest at the sacking of one of its ministers.

Rahman, considered a pro-Taliban religious leader, escaped two suicide attacks on his convoys recently.

The first attack, which left 12 people dead, was carried out on March 30 when the cleric was on his way to attend a public meeting in Swabi district in northern Pakistan. The next day, another attack was carried out on Rahman's convoy in Charsadda, killing 12 people.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL in Dera Ismail Khan, Rahman said suicide attacks and violence should not be adopted as the means to change a system of government.

"All religious parties released a unanimous statement in Lahore three years ago saying suicide attacks or fighting is unlawful to change the system," Rahman said. "We also said that the 'terrorists' should lay down arms and use the legal and constitutional means for their demands. Then the Ulema of Deoband also unanimously termed the 'armed fighting' as un-Islamic."

About the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas and the Pakistani government's criticism of those strikes, the 57-year-old Rahman said the government should come out with an open policy about the campaign.

"I think verbal protests are no more acceptable to the people," Rahman said. "The government should come out with an open policy. Either they should admit that it (drone strikes) is part of their policy towards the U.S. or otherwise, the only way is to defend the sovereignty of land by using the defense power."

On the destruction of schools in tribal areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Rahman said "such crimes" are not something unusual in wars.

"Look, this is war and such crimes are committed from all parties," Rahman said. "In this connection, the leadership of the Afghan Taliban condemned the destruction of schools in their fresh statement. Alongside, we should look at the destruction of madrasahs and mosques and see who bombed them. Both acts are condemnable."

Asked about Pakistan army operations against the Taliban, the cleric said he did not support the use of power to curb militancy.

"We never support the [war] concept," Rahman said. "The U.S. has been using power over the past 10 years to curb terrorism, but failed. I say this for Pakistan as well. We have seen results of the use of force in Bengal and Balochistan and will see its outcome in Pakhtunkhwa. Neither the parliament nor the people support this, but the army is conducting operations or asked by the government to do so. So, this road is not leading to success."

Rahman's JUI-F is believed to be a staunch supporter of the Afghan Taliban and some factions of the Pakistani Taliban groups. His party, along with the hardliner Jamat-e-Islami (JI), was in government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from 2002 till 2007.

In an interview with RFE/RL earlier this week, JI former chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad condemned suicide attacks on civilians and mosques. However, he voiced support for such attacks being carried out in Palestine.