PAKISTANI ISLAMIST FATWA REFUTES TALIBAN’S JIHAD
In a surprising move, a group of Pakistani clerics best known for their hardline views on Islam’s role in society have gathered to issue a fatwa condemning suicide-bombing and the current trend of individuals or organizations declaring jihad against the state at any moment they feel appropriate. Brought together under the umbrella of the Mutahidda Ulema Council (MUC), the conference agreed “only the state has the authority to call for jihad, and individuals or groups are not authorized to do that” (Daily Times [Lahore], October 16).
The meeting brought together an unlikely assemblage of Pakistani religious leaders. The council included representatives from the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat (a Barelvi Sunni movement largely based on the non-Pashtun population of the Punjab) and their ideological opponents in the conservative Deobandi Jamaat Ulema-e Islam. The Shia Ahl-e Tashee was present, as was the Sipah-e Sahaba, a banned radical Sunni organization involved in terrorist violence against Shias. Representatives from minority Sunni groups like the Ahl-e Hadith and Jamaat-e Islami were also present. The conference was hosted in Lahore by the Jamia Naeemia (led by Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi), a group known for its harsh criticism of perceived government failures to implement strict applications of Islam in the social and political spheres of Pakistan.
Conference delegates were unanimous in their rejection of suicide-bombing as haram (forbidden) and najaaiz (illegitimate), though the statement added: “It seems as if the government is covertly backing these attacks so that patriotic citizens may not assemble and launch a mass drive for the defense of the country” (The News [Islamabad], October 14). While moderate Islamic leaders like Mufti Munibur Rehman have issued fatwas against suicide-bombing in the past, few members of the MUC group of clerics have any affiliation to “moderate” trends of Islamic interpretation (Daily Times, October 16). Despite the criticism of the government, the clerics’ condemnation of suicide bombing was welcomed by Pakistan’s Interior advisor, Rehman Malik.
The conference also issued a number of demands on the Islamabad government, including an immediate stop to military operations in the Bajaur and Swat frontier districts, an alliance between Pakistan and Iran, and the public revelation of any secret deals made between ex-President Pervez Musharraf and the United States. The clerics condemned the recent U.S. nuclear trade deal with India as dangerous to Pakistan, which has just completed its own deal for Chinese nuclear assistance (Press Trust of India, October 2; Daily Times, October 16; October 19).
Tribal lashkars (ad-hoc military formations) have been formed in the frontier region in recent weeks to combat Taliban militants, but since the MUC meeting the Taliban have struck back with deadly suicide attacks against tribal jirgas (assemblies) convened to discuss eliminating the militants (Geo TV, October 18; KUNA, October 19). The attacks suggest that even a fatwa issued by hardline Islamists is now insufficient to slow the rapid escalation of violence in the tribal regions.
IDENTITY OF KIDNAPPERS OF CHINESE OIL WORKERS IN SUDAN STILL UNCLEAR
Nine Chinese oil workers were abducted on October 18 from a small oil field in the South Kordofan region of Sudan. It was another example of the insecurity that plagues oil operations in Sudan and is the third abduction of petroleum industry employees this year. The men are employees of Chinese oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and were doing contract work at the time for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium made up of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Sudanese elements (al-Jazeera, October 19; Reuters, October 19; Sudan Tribune, October 19). Security forces are reported to be scouring the area but have been hampered by rain and the thick bush and forest of the area.
Sudan and China have agreed to joint efforts to obtain the release of the kidnapped oil workers (SUNA, October 20). A crisis cell has been formed within the Chinese embassy to deal with the issue (Sudan Vision, October 20).
A spokesman for Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur rebel group with national ambitions, of carrying out the abductions (SUNA, October 20). The Chinese embassy has not yet had any contact with the kidnappers (AFP, October 20). Despite government claims of JEM involvement, there is a strong possibility the kidnappers are members of the local Arab Messiriya tribe. Part of the cattle-owning Baqqara Arab group of western Sudan, the Messiriya are angry over the inequitable distribution of jobs and oil wealth from industry facilities located on their traditional grazing lands. JEM claims the Messiriya have joined their operations against Kordofan oil facilities in the past in reaction to a government disarmament campaign (see Terrorism Monitor, August 11). Four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver were kidnapped by the Messiriya last May (Sudan Tribune, July 27). Though it has warned Chinese oil companies to leave the region in the past, JEM has neither confirmed nor denied participation in the current kidnapping – JEM units are often far-flung and operate with a great deal of autonomy.
China’s efforts to fuel its rapid economic growth have led it into some high-risk areas where social and political instability have dissuaded others from working. Two Chinese engineers were kidnapped in Pakistan by the Taliban and have been held in the Swat valley since August 29. In a recent escape attempt one man reached a government checkpoint while the other fractured his leg and was recaptured by the Taliban (Geo TV, October 18).
The Kordofan abductions come at an embarrassing moment for the Khartoum government. Chinese special envoy to Africa Liu Guijin is scheduled to arrive on Friday to discuss the Darfur crisis. Chinese support for Khartoum is beginning to wear at its international credibility and there are reports that China has advised Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to begin cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has recently indicted him for war crimes in Darfur (Sudan Tribune, October 18). China has also recently opened a consulate in the southern capital of Juba in an effort to develop relations with the oil-rich Government of South Sudan (GoSS) as it prepares for an independence referendum in 2011.<iframe src=’https://www.jamestown.org/jamestown.org/inner_menu.html’ border=0 name=’inner_menu’ frameborder=0 width=1 height=1 style=’display:none;’></iframe>