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Pakistani Cleric's Suicide Bomber Comments Anger Afghans

Tahir Ashrafi, head of the All-Pakistan Ulema Council
Comments on suicide bombers, which may or may not have been made by the head of the All-Pakistan Ulema Council, have been making waves in Afghanistan.

Tolo News, a private Afghan TV station, quoted Tahir Ashrafi, who heads the influential body of clerics, as saying that “suicide attacks are permitted in Afghanistan as long as American forces are present in the country.” Tolo News also quoted Ashrafi as saying: "Palestine is occupied by Israel, Kashmir by India, and Afghanistan by the U.S. So if the Muslims don't have the atomic bomb, they should sacrifice their lives for God.”

But in a subsequent interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, Ashrafi said: “This is baseless and the liar’s place is at the bottom of hell.” In another interview with the Pajwak News Agency Ashrafi said: “I’ve never supported suicide attacks that cause civilian casualties in Afghanistan.”

Misquoted or not, Ashrafi’s remarks have generated plenty of reaction in Afghanistan.

On March 2, at a joint press conference with visiting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the alleged remarks showed that “practical steps are not being taken in Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.” Rasmussen himself also “strongly condemned” such remarks, adding that “nothing can justify terrorist attacks.”

According to the Afghan news site KhaamaPress, the national security adviser to President Karzai, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, said on March 2 that Ashrafi’s alleged comments highlighted the “mainstream violence that threatens the peaceful lives of the Afghan people.”

Spanta's deputy, Rahmatullah Nabil, told Radio Free Afghanistan on March 3 that Ashrafi’s remarks were thought to be the stance of the Pakistani government. He also called on the international community to blacklist organizations backing terrorist groups -- a reference to Pakistan’s intelligence network.

The condemnations have gone beyond the Afghan government.

The Wakht News Agency reported that the head of the Afghanistan Civil Society Network, Sayed Naser Mosawi, condemned the remarks, saying that they could further damage relations between the two countries. “I believe this is not the assertion of a religious scholar, but a conspiracy plotted by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), seeking its own interests in fueling violence and suicide attacks in Afghanistan,” he said.

Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of backing Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Islamabad, however, rejects these accusations as baseless.

The controversy over Ashrafi’s remarks comes after Pakistan’s Ulema Council recently said it would not participate in a joint meeting in March in Kabul, which is geared toward peace building. Afghan and Pakistani leaders agreed during a trilateral summit in London in February to convene the meeting.

However, according to reports, prominent Pakistani cleric Mufti Abu Huraira Mohiuddin said in a letter addressed to the Afghan ulema that they were not willing to denounce the activities of the Taliban nor “would they issue a fatwa against them.”

Ashrafi also told Radio Free Afghanistan that they would not take part in the conference “because it lacked a clear agenda.”

-- Mustafa Sarwar