KABUL -- Afghan clerics and civil society activists are criticising the Taliban for its refusal to attend three peace conferences convened by ulema, including ones held in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while accepting Russia's invitation to attend a similar conference.
On May 11, Muslim scholars from Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan gathered in Bogor, Indonesia, and denounced all forms of violence and extremism.
"Violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principles of Islam," the ulema said in a fatwa.
Less than a month later, on June 4 in Kabul, Afghanistan's Ulema Council convened a conference of almost 3,000 clerics, who issued a fatwa terming suicide attacks and bombings "haram".
"Executing, financing and supporting such acts are against Sharia law," it said in a statement tweeted by the government. Fighting in the name of "jihad" in Afghanistan has "no legitimacy" in Islam, the ulema said, calling for peace talks.
On July 10-11, Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), convened the International Ulema Conference on Peace and Security in Afghanistan in Jeddah.
"We call upon Afghanistan's government and the Taliban movement to conform to a truce and ceasefire and set on a track of direct Afghan negotiations," the ulema -- more than 100 Muslim scholars from 57 countries -- said in a joint declaration July 11.
Exploiting the name of Islam
The Taliban's refusal to attend the conferences convened by ulema from around the world proves that their fight is not for the cause of Islam but for foreign agendas, several Muslim scholars and members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council (HPC) say.
In all three meetings, clerics implored the Taliban to stop violence and come to the negotiating table with the Afghan government.
The Taliban, however, rejected the Afghan government and scholars' invitation for peace, calling such meetings "misleading" and advocating a boycott.
In an apparent about-face on the issue, the militant group agreed to send a delegation to Russian-led peace talks scheduled for September 4 in Moscow.
Russia called off the meeting after Afghanistan and the United States declined to attend.
The Taliban's claim to be fighting for Islam is illegitimate, said Mawlawi Waliullah Labib, a Kabul-based Muslim scholar.
"If [the Taliban] claim they have their roots in the religion, they would have certainly confirmed [their participation] in [Saudi Arabia's] conference," he told Salaam Times.
Their decision to attend the Moscow-led meeting shows their motivations come from another source. "This, by itself, shows [the Taliban's] aberration and deviance," Labib said.
"The Taliban refuse to accept declarations made by Muslim scholars and the Islamic community," Mawlawi Abdul Ahmad Mohammadyar, another religious scholar from Kabul, told Salaam Times. "This indicates that the group is only exploiting the name of Islam."
"Islam is a religion of peace and kindness. The Taliban, however, reject all calls for peace made in the name of Islam by us [Afghan religious scholars], the Afghan government and the Afghan people, as well as Muslim scholars from Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Yet, the group accepts random invitations made by Russians."
"The meetings in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia provided a great opportunity for the Taliban to review the Afghan war from the point of view of Islam with other scholars," said Layla Jafari, a member of the HPC.
The Taliban's rejection of that opportunity -- and of the opportunities presented by the unprecedented ceasefires offered by the Afghan government during Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha -- shows where their alliances lie.
"The Taliban is used as a fighting tool and hired gun by regional countries, and they do not have political independence themselves," Jafari told Salaam Times.
"The ceasefires during the two Eid celebrations provided the best opportunity to respond to the calls for peace made by the Afghan people and the Islamic community and to declare their willingness to participate in an Afghan and national dialogue," she said.
"The Taliban themselves know that their war is illegitimate, but, unfortunately, they are used as expendable tools, the remote controls of which are in the hands of countries like Russia, Iran and Pakistan," Jafari said.
"The Taliban are not the decision-makers. Their masters are the ones who tell them which conference to attend and which one to decline," she said.
In search of legitimacy
The Taliban are trying to open new doors in search of international political support for themselves, said Aziz Rafiee, a Kabul-based civil society activist.
"In the past, the Western and regional powers, such as those in the Persian Gulf, used to co-operate with [the Taliban], but they now want to diversify this support to attract other powers like China and Russia," he told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban's manoeuvre in this regard is a political one and is based on this new vision," he said.
"It is now clear to everyone that the Taliban are not fighting for Islam. Rather, [they are fighting on behalf of] foreign powers," Ehsanullah, 24, a law student in Kabul, told Salaam Times.
"If the Taliban are fighting for Islam, then why is it that they kill civilians every day? Or, why is it that they are acting contrary to the opinions of [Muslim] scholars from Afghanistan and around the world, who have declared their war illegitimate?" he said.