US praises Saudi crown prince's efforts in 'anti-Taliban fatwa'

US praises Saudi crown prince's efforts in 'anti-Taliban fatwa'
Saudi Arabia kicked off a two-day conference for Muslim scholars expected to produce a fatwa denouncing the tactics of the Taliban, as the US puts pressure on the Afghan militants.
3 min read
10 July, 2018
Many expect the Jeddah meeting to issue a fatwa against the Taliban [AFP]
The US Defence Secretary James Mattis has praised Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his efforts "to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan", as the kingdom convened scholars at a conference in Jeddah likely to issue a fatwa against the Afghan Taliban.

This comes as the US administration puts pressure on the the insurgent group to lay down its arms and end its attacks against the Western-backed government in Kabul, shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unanounced visit to the war-torn nation on Monday.

"I read with great interest and appreciation the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman's statement supporting President Ghani's reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan and calling for a renewed ceasefire and end to hostilities there," Mattis wrote in a letter to the crown prince on Monday.

Mattis praised the Imam of the Grand Mosque, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Saudi-based Muslim World League for their statements supporting an end to the Taliban's attacks.

"Your leadership and candor on this issue reflects not only Saudi Arabia's efforts to curb terrorism and extremism, but also the strength of our nations' important strategic partnership," Mattis wrote.

The 57-nation Mecca-based OIC organisation is hosting a two-day conference in Jeddah to encourage peace talks to end Afghanistan's nearly 17-year war.

The gathering includes senior religious scholars who will "discuss ways of contributing to the efforts of achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan", the organisation said.

In a press release on Sunday, the Saudi government said the conference, will be attended by leaders of religious scholars in Afghanistan and a select group of Muslim scholars from around the world.

"[It] is aimed at assisting efforts to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan and to condemn terrorism and violent extremism in all their forms and manifestations within the framework of the teachings of the true Islamic religion," it said.

The latest religous ruling comes on the heels of a fatwa issued by Afghanistan's top clerics branding suicide attacks "haram", or forbidden. 

Many expect the Jeddah meeting to issue a similar fatwa, but the Taliban have criticised the move for potentially politicising the Islamic faith at the behest of the US.

The Taliban have said they expect the scholars to take the side of the American "invaders." 

A statement by the insurgent group pledged to continue "jihad", or holy war, against the US and other foreign troops in Afghanistan, saying that the fight "is a must."

The Taliban previously denounced such Islamic scholar conferences as an "American processes" and urged clerics to reject the gatherings.

They claimed the US was using these to justify its "military occupation" of Afghanistan.

But Shah Hussain Murtazavi, a deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, welcomed the conference.

Ghani has also pushed for peace talks with the Taliban.

The insurgents said they want to negotiate directly with the US, which invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple Kabul's Taliban government that harboured al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

When in control of Afghanistan, the Taliban were known for inflicting cruel punishments on anyone who transgressed their strict, puritanical laws, which included the semi-confinement of women to their homes.

Since the Taliban have gone underground, they have launched a string of attacks on civilian and military targets.

With input from AP