KUNDUZ -- The Taliban have been attacking mosques in Takhar Province despite claiming to revere religious sites and scriptures, say religious scholars and tribal elders.
"Over the past 10 years, the Taliban have carried out attacks on dozens of mosques in the provinces of Takhar and Kunduz on the pretext of targeting military officials," said Mohammad Zahir Sherzad, 43, a tribal elder in Taloqan, the provincial capital of Takhar.
"The Taliban organise their destructive actions inside mosques and seminary schools since they know very well that the people of Afghanistan are Muslims and that they have faith and trust in their mosques," he told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban have lost their morale, and now they have been forced to take shelter inside mosques and carry out their attacks on security forces from within these places, which in itself is among their weaknesses," he added.
For example, on April 18, the Taliban blew up a mosque in Dasht-e-Qala District, Takhar Province.
"After they were surrounded in the Aikhanum area in Dasht-e-Qala District of Takhar Province and came under immense pressure of the security forces, the Taliban group used land mines to blow up a mosque in order to distract the attention of security forces," Abdul Khalil Aseer, a spokesman for the Takhar police, told Salaam Times.
"The security forces -- whom the Taliban call infidels -- show more respect toward the holy religion of Islam and holy places, and spare no efforts in protecting and maintaining them," he said, adding that the Taliban's actions are "against the laws of warfare".
The mosque was not hosting prayers at the time of the explosion, and only three Taliban militants who happened to be inside were killed, Mohammad Jawad Hijri, a spokesman for the Takhar governor, told Salaam Times.
"This brutal act shows that the Taliban are completely ignorant of religious and Islamic values," he said.
In another incident last October 20, the Taliban damaged a mosque in Imam Sahib District, Kunduz Province, using heavy weapons.
"The Taliban targeted a mosque in the village of Aqi Bai, Imam Sahib District; parts of this mosque were destroyed and religious books were damaged," Ehsanullah Khatib, a 55-year-old resident of the district, told Salaam Times.
"The mosque has not yet been rebuilt because of intermittent fighting, so it remains in ruins," he said.
Disregard for civilians
The Taliban's assault on mosques shows the militants' complete disregard for civilians, activists and residents say.
"On October 29, 2010, the Taliban murdered engineer Mohammad Omar, a former governor and resident of Takhar Province, along with dozens of others who had attended a Friday prayer sermon in a mosque in Taloqan, all while the victims were praying," said Marzila Hamidi, 30, a civil society activist in Takhar Province.
"Such explosions and suicide bombings indicate that the Taliban leaders have not changed their ideology, and hence they still emphasise the continuation of war and violence," Hamidi told Salaam Times.
"While resorting to the pretext of jihad, the Taliban are unaware of the Islamic religion and its benefits. They hide explosives in, or carry out massacres inside mosques," he said.
"In addition to these crimes, the Taliban do not pay the slightest attention to differentiating between the military and civilian populations," he said.
"When the Taliban attack their targets in a mosque or place a roadside bomb to eliminate their targets, this is an indication that they have no regard for those public places and installations, nor do they care about civilian lives that are lost as a result of such actions," Mawlawi Qiamuddin Rahmani, a resident of Kunduz Province, told Salaam Times.
"All that matters to the Taliban is to deal a blow to the government through such explosions and suicide bombings," he said.
"The Taliban think that they can pave the way for their reign over society and the minds of the public through spreading fear and terror," Rahmani said.
"It is apparent that the nature of the Taliban have not changed in terms of violence against the public, and against mosques, considering the increase in violence, the murder of civilians and attacks on holy places," said Mawlawi Abdullah Qarluq, a member of the Meshrano Jirga (the upper house of parliament) representing Kunduz.
In yet another example, "on August 30, 2013, the Taliban murdered Sheikh Sadruddin, the governor of Dasht-i-Archi District, Kunduz Province, in a mosque during a memorial ceremony," Qarluq told Salaam Times.
"Dozens were killed and injured," he said.
"The more violence the Taliban display.. and the more they victimise civilians and military personnel" serves only to "increase the level of hatred felt by civilians toward this group," Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz Provincial Council, told Salaam Times.