ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to hold a conference of the religious scholars in Kabul in March to forge a united front in the fight against attacks on civilians but a controversy on whether to invite or not the Taliban has now cast doubts over its fate.
Pakistani clerics said that a joint organizing committee had agreed in its meeting in Islamabad on Feb. 12 to extend invitation to the Afghan Taliban but a member of the Afghan delegation rejected the idea in remarks he made in his return to Kabul.
Chairman of the Pakistani Scholars Council, Allama Tahir Ashrafi,said that anti-Taliban statement by member of the Afghan clerics council, Aminullah Muzaffary, and his claim that Taliban will not be invited, is violation of the understanding reached in the Islamabad's meeting.
Ashrafi said in Islamabad on Saturday that Pakistani clerics have now decided not to attend the joint conference in Kabul next month as they have strong apprehensions that the forum could be used against the Taliban.
"The anti-Taliban statement by the Afghan member has forced us to boycott the Kabul conference," Ashrafi said. He asked the Afghan scholars to come up with a new agenda that should also focus on the elusive peace process in the war-torn Afghanistan.
Another Pakistani religious scholar and member of the organizing committee, Mufti Abu Hurraira Mohiuddin, said that another group of Pakistani scholars has also sought clarification from the Afghan side about the reported anti-Taliban remarks by an Afghan member.
Mufti Mohiuddin, head of the "Saut-ul-Islam" or Voice of Islam group, said in Karachi that the organizing committee had decided that the Kabul conference will neither be used against nor in favor of any group or individual.
Maulvi Shehzada Shehzad, the spokesman for the Afghan clerics' council, however disputed claims by Pakistani religious leaders and said that Afghan council has formally invited the Taliban, asking the Pakistani scholars to withdraw their boycott decision.
Maulvi Shehzad said in Kabul that Afghan side is committed to respect the decisions taken in the joint organizing committee's meeting in Islamabad on Feb. 12.
Organizing committees of the two countries had previously agreed in their talks in Islamabad that 500 scholars, 250 from each country,will attend the March meeting and that the conference will not be used to support or attack any group.
The Afghan government, which had first proposed the Pak-Afghan religious scholars conference in November, is now struggling to persuade the Pakistani clerics to attend the meeting in Kabul to discuss a joint stand against the attacks on civilians and come up with a united approach against suicide bombings.
The Karzai government has pinned high hopes on the proposed conference as it wants religious backing for a nascent peace process in the war-torn country.
The Afghan government has also planned to hold an international conference of religious scholars after the Pak-Afghan meet, however,it seems that serious differences over the Taliban invitation and the apprehensions by Pakistani scholars that the forum could be used against the Taliban, have now cast doubts over the holding of the Kabul conference.
Despite demands by Pakistani religious leaders to invite the Taliban to the conference, a spokesman of the Afghan Taliban has already rejected the conference branding it as a "conspiracy" by the United States and Western nations against them. The Taliban has urged the Pakistani scholars to boycott the Kabul conference.
Some analysts are of the view that the Taliban appeal has convinced the Pakistani scholars to stay away from the conference.
The Pakistani government had, on three occasions, officially promised to help in organizing the conference as it is also facing the challenge of violent extremism and the most serious suicide attacks that have already killed innocent people.
The Afghan government is likely to ask Pakistan to convince its religious scholars to review their decision to boycott the conference.