Afghanistan’s judges and mullas, Taliban’s new targets
By Deborah Pasmantier
Targeting religious leaders and judges in this conservative and traditional country has more impact on the population than attacks on police or government officials
For months the judges and mullahs of Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar have been too afraid to venture outdoors, fearing they are the new targets of the ousted hardline Taliban.
The president of the criminal court, Atta Mohammed, has not left the court building where he lives and works since another judge was killed in the city, the former heartland of the Islamic regime, two months ago.
Judges have also been killed in a district outside the city and in neighbouring Helmand province. “It has become too dangerous, we do not feel secure, we don’t leave the courthouse any more,” said 65-year-old Mohammed. He lives at the court with 29 colleagues - all of them recluses, hidden from the public.
They include the president of the appeal court Abdulharim Rahimi, 55.
“High-profile personalities are all targets of the Taliban,” Rahimi said. “They are targeting those who have influence and collaborate with the government, like judges and religious leaders.” The Taliban’s new choice of targets - a departure from the government and security officials they focused on before - became evident several months ago when their attacks took on a new sophistication, a Western security source said.
In the bloody campaign, mullahs have paid the highest price: more than a dozen have been killed in the past months in the restive south and southeast of the country that are hotbeds for insurgents, religious leaders say. The Islamic Council of Kandahar, an intermediary between the government and the people in this conservative city, said it has lost four of its leaders this year in Taliban assassinations.
In late May two gunmen on a motorbike killed council head Abdullah Fayaz while he was in his office. A while earlier he had publicly challenged the Taliban’s one-eyed, fugitive leader, Mohammed Omar.
“Since then several members of the council have practically lived as recluses, not going anywhere except the mosque,” said mullah Said Imam, a member of the council.
But even the mosques are not safe and some mullahs have been killed inside them, council members say.
Imam, 35, said he has been threatened several times and been forced to stop most of his activities to avoid a similar fate. He no longer travels into districts outside the city, and he moves around town with great care and holds all his meetings in secret.
Two years ago the council issued a fatwa saying they accepted the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan to help to bring peace, a stance that directly backed the government line and went against the Taliban position.
“With the council supporting the government, the Taliban can long say it goes against Islam,” Imam said.
Targeting religious leaders and judges in this conservative and traditional country has more impact on the population than attacks on police or government officials, said Nasrullah Khan from the National Democratic Institute in Kandahar.
“They have a more important role in society and can have great influence because they are mentally preparing the population for the democratic process,” he said.
That process was due to take a leap forward Sunday with Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in 30 years, a poll that Taliban militants threatened to disrupt. There was a spike in Taliban-linked attacks before the poll, with seven of the nearly 5,800 candidates killed in the run-up to the vote. afp