Prominent Muslim scholars from three countries are set to meet in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Friday, hoping to find a solution to decades of war and bloodshed in Afghanistan.
At the trilateral Ulema Conference, scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia will discuss challenging the narrative of “holy war” pushed by the Taliban armed group as the way to free the country from US-led forces.
The Taliban was removed from power in 2001 after US forces invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York.
Scholars hope the move will persuade the Taliban, which has been running a bloody armed rebellion since 2001, to come to the negotiating table, but analysts say it could have the opposite effect.
...any religious pronouncement against the Taliban or their extremist tactics could strip Taliban's religious legitimacy, which is the last thing they want to hear
Akram Khpalwak, head of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council secretariat, who will attend the Jakarta summit, hopes the participants will reach an agreement and release a “fatwa” – a religious edict issued by an expert in Islamic law – to persuade the Taliban to enter peace negotiations with Afghan officials.
But that seems unlikely, as the Taliban turned down an invitation to the conference, which is organised by the Indonesian government.
In a statement in March, the Taliban, who control or exercise influence in 13 percent of Afghanistan’s 408 districts, called the conference “un-Islamic” and urged all Islamic scholars to refrain from participating.
“The invaders [the foreign troops in Afghanistan] have employed various stratagems to prolong their indirect occupation, an important part of which is called the ‘Peace Process’ which seeks the surrender of Mujahideen [Taliban fighters],” the statement said.
Javid Ahmed, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in the US who covers counterterrorism issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the Taliban were concerned by the conference.
This is because “any religious pronouncement against the Taliban or their extremist tactics could strip Taliban’s religious legitimacy, which is the last thing they want to hear”.
“It may also marginally curb the Taliban recruitment.”
Borhan Osman, an senior Afghan analyst for the International Crisis Group, said a scholarly discussion on the religious dimension of the war in Afghanistan is unprecedented.
“The idea by the Afghan government to get a fatwa from Ulamas [Islamic scholars] to delegitimise the Taliban’s fight as jihad was floated seven years ago, but had never made headway until now,” he told Al Jazeera.
However, he added: “It is yet to be known how big an impact such a meeting would have, especially as it is not an independent initiative, but undertaken at the request of the Afghan government.”
Khpalwak, meanwhile, acknowledged that it would be difficult to achieve the conference’s goal as some Pakistani scholars agree with the Taliban narrative of “holy war”.
What we expect from them is to contribute to ending the foreign occupation in the country and by extension, to bring peace
“I believe whatever agreement we reach on will be in the best interest of Afghanistan, as we will do everything according to the Islamic law,” he said.
A senior member of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, who declined to be named, said the group expected Indonesia to work on steps towards ending the “foreign occupation” in Afghanistan, instead of issuing a “fatwa”.
“What we [Taliban] expect from them [the Ulemas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia] is to contribute to ending the foreign occupation in the country and by extension, to bring peace,” he said.
In the first three months of 2018, more than 700 civilians were killed, and nearly 1,500 injured in a series of explosions and suicide attacks carried out by the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), according to UN’s mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
With such a staggering number of civilian casualties, it is yet to be determined how much progress the conference would make towards peace, especially since the Taliban considers the Afghan government to be “puppets” of the American forces.
“The ideal situation in an effort to bring peace in Afghanistan would be if the Taliban respond to a peace proposal in good faith, negotiate an immediate ceasefire, appoint a peace envoy and a negotiating team, and begin to engage in direct talks with Afghanistan – and the United States,” said Ahmed.