Comments by two All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) members supporting the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan appear to have triggered some degree of unease within the influential body, which has quickly distanced itself from the controversial views.
While AIMPLB's clarification was an attempt to put the matter to rest, it also suggested that not all members of the Sunni Muslim body were speaking the same language on the sensitive issue, which would certainly have geopolitical ramifications in the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and beyond. Not just AIMPLB, there appears to be differences among India's Muslim opinion leaders and intelligentsia.
"All India Muslim Personal Law Board has neither expressed any view nor given any statement on Taliban and recent political situation of Afghanistan. Opinion of some Board members has been portrayed as the Board’s stand by few media channels and wrong things are being attributed to the Board. These practices are against the spirit of journalism. Media Channels must refrain themselves from such acts and no news regarding the Taliban should be attributed to the @AIMPLB_OFFICIAL," the body tweeted on Wednesday.
AIMPLB's statement made it clear that comments by its secretary Maulana Umrain Mahfuz Rahmani and national spokesperson Maulana Sajjad Nomani -- both of them appeared to have praised Taliban fighters -- were made in a personal capacity. But they were views of two AIMPLB members nonetheless; they triggered a heated discussion online with a section of netizens criticising Rahmani and Nomani's stand.
“We salute the Taliban fighters, they have defeated the strongest army. An unarmed nation has defeated the strongest army. They entered the palace of Kabul. The whole world saw how they entered Kabul. There was no pride or arrogance in them. There were no big words. Those young men are kissing the soil of Kabul. Congratulations, this Hindi Muslim salutes you. I salute your courage. Salutes your spirit,” Nomani said in a video statement on his personal YouTube channel.
AIMPLB secretary Umrain said the Taliban conquered Afghanistan not with the power of means and resources but with "the eternal wealth of faith and belief", according to the Times of India.
He also praised the amnesty offered by the Taliban to women as well as officials and soldiers of the US-backed regime that surrendered before the insurgents with the pullout of US troops after two decades.
Umrain said the Taliban's victory against the forces that once banished them proved "wars are won with the help of God, not with intelligence and strength", the Times of India reported.
As the debate raged, Shia personal law board general secretary Maulana Yasoob Abbas appealed to those in India with "Taliban mentality" to have a rethink, speaking out strongly against the insurgents.
"It is very unfortunate that some Muslims in India are celebrating the Taliban's power grab," he said, pointing to atrocities committed by the Sunni fundamentalist Islamic group against the Shias.
"On behalf of the All India Shia Personal Law Board, I would like to condemn Taliban in the strongest words. This is the same Taliban that do not just oppose Hindus but have committed atrocities on Shia Muslims...the Shia personal law board will not tolerate such people in India who praise Taliban."
Earlier, Samajwadi Party (SP) parliamentarian Shafiqur Rahman Barq faced flak -- and then sedition charges -- for allegedly drawing parallel between India's freedom struggle and the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.
"When India was struggling against the British, then country got united against the invaders...They (Afghans) also want freedom for their country. This is their personal issue. How can we interfere in that? The Taliban didn't let America or Russia settle in Afghanistan; they are in power and they want to run their own country," the SP leader from Uttar Pradesh said.
When reporters asked him if he was backing the Taliban, Barq said: "Our country is strong and united, if the Taliban dare to come here. We don't think that the Taliban's occupation of Afghanistan is legitimate, but then why should America occupy Afghanistan?"
Maulana Sufiyan Nizami, a spokesperson for Darul Uloom Farangi Mahal -- an Islamic seminary in Lucknow, said no one should be in a hurry to praise the Taliban. "We should look forward to our foreign policy and how things evolve between the two nations. One should patiently wait and see if the Taliban follows what they are claiming this time (on human rights and moderate face). We should also see what kind of relations our country develops with the the Taliban before making any statement, he said.
India has called for peace in Afghanistan and appealed that the country does not become a breeding ground for terrorists with the return of the Taliban. It maintains that its focus is on ensuring security in Afghanistan and the safe return of Indian nationals stranded there.
"At this point of time, we're looking at what is the situation in Kabul. Obviously, the Taliban and its representatives have come to Kabul. So we need to take it on from there," External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told reporters on Wednesday.
The Taliban, pushed to a corner after the US entered Afghanistan as part of its campaign against terrorism in 2001, have regrouped over the past few years and captured power in a lightning offensive. In a military blitzkrieg over the past two weeks, the Taliban have captured all major cities in Afghanistan, as government forces melted away.
Many Afghans, fearing a return to the Taliban's oppressive rule and strict interpretation of the Sharia law, are desperate to flee the country. The group had previously governed Afghanistan (1996-2001) under a harsh version of the Islamic law in which women were forbidden to work or attend school, and could not leave their homes without a male relative accompanying them.
Indian Islamic scholar Atiq ur Rehman said he did not endorse "radical or sweeping" statements by anybody, including SP and AIMPLB members. "The Taliban issue is a diplomatic issue," he told CNN-News18 on Wednesday.
"Within the country, we can fight with the government for our rights…(but) herein I, as an individual entity, would say that in the past the Taliban have not done anything for human rights either within the UN (United Nations) ambit or the Quranic ambit. Now we have to see if this is a reformed Taliban," he said.