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Afghan clerics seek return to strict Islamic law

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s largest gathering of clerics, who met to discuss reconciliation with the Taliban, has called for the revival of strict Islamic law as the country seeks ways to win militants away from a growing insurgency.

About 350 of the Islamic clerics, or ulema, met for three days this week, the meeting ending with a declaration calling on President Hamid Karzai to enact sharia, or Islamic law, including punishments such as stonings, lashing, amputation and execution.

“The lack of implementation of sharia hodud (punishment) has cast a negative impact on the peace process,” said a 10-point resolution issued after the meeting.

“We the ulema and preachers of Afghanistan ... earnestly ask the government not to spare any efforts in the implementation of sharia hodud.”

The resolution, seen by Reuters, was sent to Karzai’s government.

The ulema have a long-standing and deep influence in traditionally conservative Afghanistan and have often stepped in to back uprisings or been used to bolster past governments.

The head of a government council of religious leaders, separate to the gathering this week, has been asked to find ways to make peace with the Taliban after almost 10 years of war since the militants were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.

The head of that government council, Mawlavi Qiyamuddin Kashaf, attended the meeting of clerics and scholars this week, which included representatives from both the majority Sunni Muslim sect and minority Shi’ites.

“This (gathering) was very new for the peace efforts and the biggest yet. They will go and preach for peace in their respective regions,” Kashaf told Reuters on Thursday.

However, there has so far been no reaction from Karzai’s government to the council’s resolution.

After years of conflict in Afghanistan, Karzai has sought to soften perceptions of his deeply religious country through programs such as moderate Islamic schools.

But at the same time he has been pushing reconciliation with the Taliban as violence continues to rise, raising concerns among some of his backers in the West.

Karzai called a major tribal “peace gathering” in June to win support for his plan to offer an amnesty, cash and job incentives to Taliban foot soldiers while arranging asylum for top figures in a second country and getting their names struck off a U.N. and U.S. blacklist.


The Taliban were notorious for their harsh punishment of offenders during their rule from 1996 to 2001 and staged public stonings, floggings, amputations and executions.

In a reminder of their harsh rule, a woman received dozens of lashes before she was publicly executed by a Taliban commander in a remote district of northwest Badghis province this week, officials have said.

The clerics’ resolution also urged foreign forces, who number more than 140,000, to stop unnecessary air strikes and searching of Afghans’ homes.

While military deaths have reached record proportions this year, Afghan civilians bear the brunt of the conflict and civilian casualties have long been an irritant been Karzai’s government and its backers in the West.

Such concerns have led to a tightening of tactical directives twice in the past year, under the former head of NATO and U.S. forces, General Stanley McChrystal, and his successor General David Petraeus in June.

The council also pushed for a crackdown against corruption -- one of the major Western complaints against Karzai’s government -- and social immorality and “cultural invasion.”

The latter two are indirect references to the airing of immodest Indian and Western songs and films by the growing number of private cable and satellite television networks in Afghanistan. Such entertainment was banned under the Taliban.

Editing by Paul Tait