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Dramatic New Development in Afghanistan Offers Hope for Entire Region
Paul M. Rodriguez
Insight on the News

In a dramatic show of support for democratic efforts by President Hamid Karzai, the highest religious body in Afghanistan has issued a 13-point declaration of support for free elections, called for protection of women's rights, and strongly condemned illegal drug trafficking and terrorist acts, both in Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world. The declaration of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan, which is to Afghanistan what the College of Cardinals is at the Vatican, also denounced the practice of forced marriage, including the so-called feud marriages in which children are married to end family disputes.

"This declaration by the Ulema Council is an extremely important statement of Islamic principles," says Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States. "This is the highest and most respected group of religious scholars in the country and sends a powerful message in support of the reform agenda of the government and its international partners. It sends a strong signal to terrorists, elements of the Taliban and other extremists who would thwart democracy in our country and undermine the reconstruction efforts now under way there."

Jawad says that along with the newly adopted constitution and the free and democratic elections scheduled for this summer to establish a representative government, the Ulema Council declaration makes clear that Afghanistan is emerging as a model for Muslim countries, showing how to create a civil society, assuring personal freedoms and good governance, within the cultural embrace of traditional values and institutions. "We welcome the declaration of the Ulema Council," Jawad says. "It shows the progress and commitment of our government leaders and the people who want to live free and in a safe environment without fear of their government or tyrannical leadership."

Muslim scholars and leaders in Washington, Iraq and Iran tell Insight that until the great strides exhibited by the Afghan people are appreciated and emulated in other conflict zones of the region, terrorists will likely continue to operate there. "If the religious leaders in Iraq were to issue such a declaration [as adopted by the Afghan Ulema Council] the road to peace and stability would come much faster there," a high-ranking Middle Eastern diplomat agrees.

"The people of Iraq need to have just such support from their various clerical and religious leaders, but they are not yet getting it. We need to hear from these clerics so that the people will have confidence to stand up to the extremists and terrorists," said a Washington observer involved in the rebuilding program in Iraq.

The Afghan Ulema Council also called on international peacekeeping forces to work closely with Afghan authorities and to afford detainees treatment in accord with Islamic Sharia (Koranic laws) and Muslim culture, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which the Afghan constitution has adopted to encode its policy.

"The Ulema Council of Afghanistan denounces terrorism in any form, under any name and committed in any part of the world. We consider terrorism contradictory to the principles of Islam and humanity, and call on the international community to confront terrorism in all its forms, including state-sponsored," says the 13-point declaration.

Ambassador Jawad observes, "These are very strong words, and this is an extremely important development not just for Afghans but for all Muslims who want to live in a free society." Then he says firmly, "This shows how it can be done."

Paul M. Rodriguez is the managing editor of Insight.

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