Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks

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Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Siraj ul Haq with the visiting Afghan scholars’ delegation in Islamabad. (JI photo)
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Afghan Ulema delegation seeks mediation by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Afghan scholars met Sami-ul-Haq in Islamabad on Sunday. (Photo courtesy: Sami-ul-Haq's office)
Updated 03 October 2018

Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks

  • A seven-member Afghan delegation met Pakistan’s religious-politico leader, Maulana Sami-ul-haq, asking him to help to bring the Taliban to the dialogue table
  • Haq is the head cleric of the religious seminary where many Taliban leaders graduated from, and has agreed to host dialogue between Afghanistan and the Taliban for lasting regional peace

ISLAMABAD: Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, known as the father of the Afghan Taliban, says he has offered his religious school in Pakistan as a venue for possible talks between the Taliban and Afghan government-sponsored peace council and religious scholars to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Afghan scholars, who were in Pakistan this week to meet Pakistani religious leaders about holding conferences of clerics in Islamabad and Kabul on the war in Afghanistan, met Sami-ul-Haq in Islamabad on Sunday.

Many Taliban leaders studied in Sami-ul-Haq’s religious school, “Darul Uloom Haqqania,” in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak, and he is believed to have a certain degree of influence over the Taliban. 

The seven-member Afghan delegation, comprising members of the High Peace Council and the ulema council, met Sami-ul-Haq, chief of his own faction of Jamiat ulema-e-Islam party, and sought his help in restoring peace in the war-ravaged country.

“The Taliban and the Afghan ulema should hold closed-doors meetings and I offer my madrassa Haqqania for their face-to-face talks. They should first sit, pave the way for removing mistrust and address each other’s concerns,” Haq told Arab News. 

He said that he had a two-and-half hour meeting with the Afghan clerics about this on Sunday.

“They sought my mediation with the Taliban and empowered me to make a decision. I told them that this is a complicated issue and foreign powers are involved and they will not accept this. But I assured them to convey their opinion to the Taliban and the Taliban’s response to them. I will make efforts to broker your meeting,” the JUI-S leader told the Afghan delegation.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid refrained from commenting when a query was posted about whether the Taliban would accept Sami’s mediatory role.

However, an Afghan religious scholar, who had previously held a position in the Taliban group, said that the Taliban did not have any contact with the JUI-S leader. 

Taliban statement on the scholars initiative for talks with the Taliban. (Photo courtesy: Sami-ul-Haq's office)

The Afghan embassy also refused to provide on-the-record comments about whether the Afghan side offered mediation to Sami-ul-Haq. However, a source close to the talks confirmed that the mediation was part of the discussion.

“Sami-ul-Haq told the delegation that the Taliban want an impartial mediator and our people then told him you should come forward and mediate,” the source told Arab News.

The Taliban wrote a letter to Pakistani scholars last week to stay away from the meeting and later issued a statement to dismiss the move as a “plan of the Americans to exert religious pressure on the Taliban.” The Urdu-language letter was made available to Arab News.

“The Islamic Emirate once again calls on all sincere and independent religious scholars of Afghanistan and Pakistan to boycott the said conferences and not become victims of American strategies and intelligence plots. Do not give a new meaning and concept to the Afghan Jihad after 17 years and do not lend indirect support for the American occupation,” the Taliban statement said on Sept. 29.

Experts believe that Haq is irrelevant as the Taliban have new fighters and the Taliban leaders have long been out of his religious seminary’s clout.

“Sami-ul-Haq may be helpful but logically he is irrelevant and pinning hopes on him is unrealistic,” Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based think tank Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), told Arab News on Tuesday.

Afghan scholars held detailed discussions with Pakistan’s internationally recognized religious scholar Maulana Taqi Usmani, chief of Ansar ul Ummah Fazal ur Rehman Khalil, Maulana Iderees, Hanif Jhalandari and chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr. Qibla Ayaz.

Both sides did not issue any statement and refused to offer any official comment on their talks when Arab News approached them.

The Afghan delegates also had a breakfast meeting with Jamaat-e-Islami chief Siraj-ul-Haq in Islamabad on Monday and a statement issued by the Haq’s seminary said that the party leader backed intra-Afghan dialogue.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who traveled to Kabul last month, agreed with Afghan officials on a meeting of scholars and foreign ministry officials to discuss the agenda for a joint conference of the scholars to issue a joint decree on violence in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has long been urging Pakistan to use religious scholars, who have influence on the Taliban, for peace in Afghanistan. However, Pakistani scholars had been reluctant to sit with the Afghan scholars in view of the Taliban opposition to such meetings. 

Taliban letter to the scholars in Pakistan arguing them not to mediate. (Photo courtesy: Sami-ul-Haq's office)


Academic freed in Iran ‘blown away’ by support

Updated 11 min 38 sec ago

Academic freed in Iran ‘blown away’ by support

SYDNEY: An Australian-British academic released after two years imprisoned in Iran on spying charges said she thanked supporters from the “bottom of my heart” Tuesday, saying they helped her through a “never-ending, unrelenting nightmare.”
In her first statement since arriving back in Australia, Middle East scholar Kylie Moore-Gilbert said she was “totally blown away” by efforts from friends and family to secure her release.
“I honestly have no words to express the depth of my gratitude and how touched I am,” the 33-year-old said.
“It gave me so much hope and strength to endure what had seemed like a never-ending, unrelenting nightmare. My freedom truly is your victory. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!“
Moore-Gilbert was released last week in a swap for three Iranians linked to a botched plot to kill Israeli officials in Bangkok.
She was arrested by Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2018, after attending an academic conference in the holy city of Qom in central Iran.
She was later charged with espionage and sentenced to 10 years in jail, allegations she has denied.