By Syed Zafar Mehdi
November 21, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon, a large congregation of top-notch Afghan clerics had assembled at a wedding hall in Kabul to mark the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Festive fervour pervaded the air, as clerics, young and old, greeted and embraced each other in a beautiful spirit of camaraderie and compassion that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) preached and propagated all his life.
In a place like Afghanistan, where festivities barely mean anything and where mourning has become a defining feature of life, it was a rare occasion where religious scholars came together to celebrate birth anniversary of the man who was sent as a ‘mercy’ to mankind.
“Muhammad is Allah’s apostle and those who are (truly) with him are firm and unyielding towards disbelievers, (yet) full of mercy towards one another,” says Holy Quran. This beautiful element of mercy towards one another enshrined in Holy Quran cannot be emphasized enough.
Just as verses from the Hoy Quran were being recited to start the program, a young man quietly sneaked inside the jam-packed hall. No one raised an alarm because no one could possibly have expected anything. The young man turned out to be a suicide bomber, who swiftly made his way to the centre of the gathering before detonating his explosives.
Within moments, dozens of lifeless bodies were lying in the pools of blood. Copies of Holy Quran were stained in blood of the men who spent their lives reciting and memorizing the holy verses. The wedding hall that was buzzing with activity moments ago had turned silent. The silence was deafening.
More than 50 people were killed in what is one of the deadliest attacks in Kabul in recent months. According to some Twitter users, Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack in a tweet but the tweet was quickly deleted, which prompted local and international news outlets to report that no group had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Given the spate of attacks across Afghanistan in recent months, it is pretty clear that the Afghan Taliban group, which adheres to the Wahhabi school of thought, is behind the attack as they deem celebration of Holy Prophet’s birthday (Eid Milad) ‘forbidden’ and term it an innovation.
President Ashraf Ghani, who has been desperately wooing the insurgent group for talks, condemned the terrorist attack and declared Wednesday as a day of national mourning. The UN mission in Afghanistan, which supports peace talks with the Taliban, said it was outraged by the deadly bombing. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose country is accused of providing sanctuary to the insurgent group, condemned the cowardly act of terrorism.
It is important to mention that the country’s leading religious organization had previously issued an edict (fatwa), which quite unequivocally declared suicide attacks ‘forbidden’ in Islam. The members of the same organization came under attack on Tuesday. Interestingly, both sides accuse each other of indulging in forbidden acts, former in celebration of Mawlid and latter in carrying out suicide attacks.
Taliban, which has made suicide bombings favourite method of warfare in Afghanistan, wants to send the message that they understand Islam better than these religious scholars.
The group’s activities are rooted in Takfirism, the phenomenon of declaring others as heretics which has gained traction across the world today. It is a grand project aimed at sowing discord among Muslims and to divide them on sectarian lines.
The attack has drawn angry reactions from netizens. Rafi Fazil, a development economist, said it is a moment of unity and solidarity. This has become a war of survival for my generation, he tweeted. Khalid Amiri, a young activist, said how anyone could target a gathering where the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was being observed. These are not just numbers but lives that matter, he said of the 53 people killed.
In recent weeks, Taliban has upped the ante in various provinces across Afghanistan, carrying out attacks on predominantly Shia populated areas. After brief assault on Uruzgan, Taliban fighters launched a coordinated attack on Ghazni Jaghori and Malistan districts last week. In the absence of reinforcements, people there displayed exemplary bravery to repel the attack.
While the offensives continue unabated, the group is engaging in so-called peace talks facilitated by Washington and Moscow respectively. Just a few days ago, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly held talks with Taliban officials in Qatar, second time in less than four weeks. A few weeks ago, Moscow had also hosted a landmark conference which saw participation of representatives from at least 12 countries, besides a delegation of Taliban and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council.
Let us make no mistake about it. Violence and dialogue cannot go together. By allowing the insurgent group to negotiate from a position of power, the facilitators are only emboldening them to carry out more such attacks in Afghanistan.
Dialogue should take place only when the group declares an unconditional ceasefire. It should not be too difficult for the U.S. government with its formidable military and intelligence to crack down on the group if it continues to kill innocent Afghans like we have seen in recent years and months and weeks. But the question is: Does the U.S. government really want that? No.