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Stage set for grand meeting of religious scholars, influential figures in Kabul 'for national unity'

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Stage set for grand meeting of religious scholars, influential figures in Kabul 'for national unity'

Tahir Khan
June 30, 2022


Delegates arrive for a conference on national unity in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday. — Photo by author

Delegates arrive for a conference on national unity in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday. — Photo by author

Delegates from across Afghanistan arrived in capital Kabul on Wednesday for a conference of religious scholars that is set to discuss important issues.

Afghan government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul that about 3,000 scholars, tribal elders and influential figures will attend the grand moot on Thursday.

Mujahid said that several committees were formed for arrangements and a declaration would be announced at the end of the meeting that could last for three days.

An invitee told Dawn.com that the participants will speak about all important issues, including the reopening of girls’ schools above sixth grade, inclusivity of the Taliban setup and respect for human rights.

The Taliban have not yet opened girls’ high schools despite their earlier announcement to do so, which has evoked criticism in and outside of Afghanistan.

First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited the “Loya Jirga Hall” and instructed officials to take measures for better management of the grand assembly.

Taliban organisers had not issued a formal agenda for the conference until Wednesday night.

Two scholars and tribal elders were invited from every district and a similar number of people were also invited from major cities.

It will be the first major gathering since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August and is seen as an attempt by the group to seek scholarly support for internal recognition.

A similar gathering of religious scholars was held in the mid-1990s, which had then declared allegiance to Taliban founder Mullah Omar and also endorsed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

No country has yet recognised the incumbent Taliban government, which came to power last year following the US withdrawal.

Senior Afghan leaders, including former president Hamid Karzai and former chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah, have called for greater inclusivity in the current setup.

Meanwhile, female activists held a press conference in Kabul to call for giving representation to women in the conference. They said women in Afghanistan make up half of the population and ignoring them was unjustified.

When questioned about the matter, Afghan Deputy Prime Minister Mawlavi Abdul Salam Hanafi said male delegates would represent women.

"The women are our mothers, sisters, we respect them a lot. When their sons are in the gathering it means they are also involved in a way," he said.
Civil society groups have said the meeting will lack legitimacy if women were not included.

Unprecedented security​


Kabul has come under a security blanket and all roads to the “loya jirga” — literally “grand assembly” in Pashto — tent have been closed, in addition to setting up of new check posts and the deployment of Taliban intelligence officials and policemen.

The media is not allowed to attend the conference and report from the venue. The Taliban will, however, hold a daily briefing to apprise the media of the deliberations.


 

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Thousands gather at all-male meeting to rubber-stamp Taliban rule


AFP
30 Jun, 2022


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KABUL: Thousands of Afghan religious scholars and tribal elders gathered in the capital Thursday for a men-only meeting the Taliban hope will rubber-stamp their rule.

Officials have provided scant details of the ‘Jirga’ – a traditional gathering of influential people that settles differences by consensus – and the media is also barred from attending.

It comes a week after a powerful earthquake struck the east of the country killing over 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

Even before the quake, the Taliban were struggling to administer a country that had long been in the grip of economic malaise, dependent on foreign aid that dried up with the overthrow of the Western-backed government in August.

Officials from the United States were due to meet senior Taliban leaders in Qatar later Thursday for talks on unlocking some of Afghanistan’s reserves, with Washington seeking ways to ensure the money goes to help the population rather than the group.
A Taliban source told AFP this week that criticism of the regime would be allowed at the three-day jirga, and thorny issues such as the education of girls – which has divided opinion in the movement – would be discussed.

But women would not be allowed to attend, with deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi telling state broadcaster RTA on Wednesday there was no need because they would be represented by male relatives.

“The women are our mothers and sisters … we respect them a lot,” he said.

“When their sons are in the gathering it means they are also involved.”


Girls barred from school

Since the Taliban’s return, secondary school girls have been barred from education while women were dismissed from government jobs, forbidden from travelling alone and ordered to dress in clothing that covers everything but their faces.

They have also outlawed playing non-religious music, banned the portrayal of human figures in advertising, ordered TV channels to stop showing movies and soap operas featuring uncovered women, and told men they should dress in traditional outfits and grow their beards.

A letter from the prime minister’s office seen by AFP said each of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts should provide three delegates to the meeting.

Cities, religious groups and other organisations would also be sending representatives, bringing the gathering to over 3,000 – the biggest leadership collective since the Taliban returned to power.

Afghan media is abuzz with speculation that Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada – who has not been filmed or photographed in public since the group returned to power – may attend the gathering.

Only a handful of unverified audio recordings of his speeches have been released since August from Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heart.

The Taliban have thrown a dense security blanket over the capital, with roads leading to the venue blocked, or bristling with checkpoints.
 

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Taliban supreme leader makes first appearance in Kabul, attends clerics’ moot

Tahir Khan
July 1, 2022



The supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzada. — AFP/File

The supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzada. — AFP


The supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzada, on Friday arrived in the capital, Kabul, for the first time since the group took control of Afghanistan in August last year.

Akhundzada, who has not been filmed or photographed in public since the Taliban's return, spoke at a grand meeting of religious scholars and tribal elders on the second day that is discussing important issues.

Organisers said that over 3,000 scholars and influential personalities from across Afghanistan were taking part in the moot which would continue till Saturday (July 2).
During his speech, which was delivered in Pashto, the Taliban supreme leader defen
ded his government's policies and said that the Taliban had the right to fully implement the Islamic system.

“The establishment of an Islamic system is not only good news for the people of Afghanistan but for Muslims across the world. I had received messages of congratulations from Muslims across the world."

Akhundzada said it had never been the objective of the Taliban to target Afghans during its resistance against foreign invaders. But those Afghans who were guarding foreign occupation, he continued, "we had no option but to fight them".

"When the Americans left Afghanistan, we declared a general amnesty for all and told them that they were pardoned despite their brutalities against the Mujahideen," the Taliban chief said.

He urged officials to end corruption in all government departments and avoid giving positions on the basis of favouritism and friendship.

"If such ills are part of our government, then it will be totally against the struggle we waged for the establishment of an Islamic system," Akhundzada said.

He further went on to defend the policies of the Islamic Emirate and said the government was facing challenges from the international community.

"There would be more opposition to our government when we start implementing decisions of Islamic courts," he said, adding that "we should not care about the world's criticism but try to enforce the Islamic system."

Earlier, speakers at the gathering vowed to defend their country despite external and internal challenges.

Afghan Prime Minister Mullah Hasan, in his address, urged the delegates to question those who were against the Islamic administration.

"Now, the Islamic system has been established, we must do all we can to strengthen it," the state's Bakhtar News Agency quoted the premier as saying.

"You are well aware that under the rule of the Islamic system, all those who used to fight the Mujahideen have been pardoned, but they still create troubles for our country from abroad," he said.

Meanwhile, Afghan Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob sought a religious decree from the participants for the solution to some problems. He asked the scholars to identify weaknesses in the implementation of the Islamic Sharia and urged them to suggest solutions.

"Neither any Islamic nor any non-Islamic country has recognised our system. Give us advice on how to formulate a foreign policy that could lead to the recognition of the government," Yaqoob added.

Taliban forces raid compound, kill three​

Meanwhile, Taliban security forces raided a compound in Kabul today and killed three people.

Taliban officials said the armed men wanted to fire at the participants of the conference. They also issued a video showing three bodies lying in different parts of a house.

The Taliban government’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid played down the incident when asked at a press conference in Kabul calling it "small".

He said that the incident did not disrupt the meeting. When the security forces fired at the suspects, they lobbed a hand grenade at the raiding party, but no one was injured, he said.

Separately, a diplomatic source said that two to three rockets were fired towards the venue of the grand meeting, out of which one landed near the Polytechnical school where guests were residing. An exchange of fire was also reported near the site.

Later, several videos in which heavy firing could be heard were posted on social media.

Meanwhile, local and foreign journalists were not allowed access to the "Loya Jirga" tent where the meeting was being held. Only the Afghan state TV, radio, and social media aired audio of the speeches. Pictures or videos of the conference were, however, not released to the media.

Policies on women​

Since returning to power in August, the Taliban have increasingly curtailed freedoms — particularly those of women and girls.

The United Nations and several countries, including the United States, have criticised those policies and urged the Taliban rulers to "swiftly reverse the policies and practices which are currently restricting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghan women and girls".

In May, Akhundzada had ordered the country's women to wear the all-covering burqa in public. "They should wear a chadori (head-to-toe burqa) as it is traditional and respectful," he had said.

The Taliban have also announced a number of other restrictions, including asking Afghanistan's television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women actors.

Last year, Taliban authorities said that women seeking to travel anything other than short distances should not be offered transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative.

The guidance, issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also called on all vehicle owners to offer rides only to those women wearing hijabs.

The Afghan government has also shut down girls' secondary schools in the country.

The international community has made the right to education for all a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition of the Taliban regime, with several nations and organisations offering to pay teachers.

In the same vein, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Friday urged the Taliban to look to other Muslim countries for inspiration on improving the rights of women, and ending their "systematic oppression".

According to an AFP report, she said, "I strongly encourage the de facto authorities to engage with predominantly Muslim countries with experience in promoting women and girls' rights, as guaranteed in international law, in that religious context."
 

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