In May, Darul Uloom Deoband Madrasah, located north of New Dehli, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against terrorism. As stated on its website,
According to Islamic Shariah, whether it is the matter of an individual, group or ideological difference, persons who are not concerned or related to a particular action, cannot be held responsible for the action of others.
In November, 4,000 senior Indian ulema (religious leaders) endorsed the fatwa in a mass gathering in the city of Hyderabad. Although issued in a “strict Indian context,” the ideological forerunners of the Taliban might have some influence over Taliban attitudes.
It would, however, be well to consider the specifics. As Maulana Mahmood Madani, general-secretary of the party founded by the Madrasah, noted, “The killing of innocents or atrocities against them is terrorism.” That is certainly the standard definition of terrorism, so Taliban acceptance of such an attitude would certainly constitute a huge step forward – no more acid attacks on schoolgirls or random attacks on markets or hotels.
However, “the killing of innocents” is hardly the working definition of terrorism employed by the Neo-Cons, who use the word to describe any act of violence in opposition to them. Agreement by the Taliban to renounce terrorism would not prevent them from continuing the war against Western interference in their country. Moreover, for the Taliban to take such a step would beg for an obvious Western quid pro quo: the end to air strikes that kill innocents.
Such a change would have several affects on the course of the war: removing from the West one of its most potent threats and thus presumably forcing the West to put significantly more effort into dangerous ground patrols is the obvious initial impact. Perhaps even more significant, consider the potential impact on the Afghan public of a Taliban insurgency that focused completely on resisting foreigners without causing any harm to Afghans. Would the Taliban then become generally viewed in Afghanistan as the patriotic national resistance? (Admittedly, the question raises the further question of the degree to which they already are so viewed.)
Although I know of little evidence to back up the assumption, it appears likely that the propensity of many Islamic radicals to use violence against their own populations is one of their major weaknesses. It would seem that Moslem populations suffering from such attacks must certainly resent such treatment, regardless of their opinion of the ultimate goals of the radicals. Indeed, this seems to have been a key reason for the “success” of the U.S. surge in Iraq – many found compromise with the occupier a lesser evil than the continued mayhem of ethnic war.
A radical Islamic insurgency that took care to protect the local population might prove very difficult to defeat.