Yasir Habib Khan

Religious diplomacy is never an unusual term or strategy to lay down lasting peace. Whenever given a chance to wind down violence, it plays its anchoring role.

Under bleak situation in which Afghanistan, Middle East region, some parts of Pakistan, China, Europe and even America have fallen the victim of terrorism, extremism, radicalisation, worth of religious diplomacy has heightened to intense magnitude.

War, insurgency, military invasion, army deployments, arms proliferation have never been keys steps to iron out internal and external problems. They may be deemed as quick-fixer for short period but never steer to sustainable solutions.

No doubt the answer to all challenges eroding global peace lies in religious diplomacy irrespective of what sort of governance system is in practice. Whether there is democracy, socialism, dictatorship or kingship it is high time that international powers and those which matter due to their geo-political heft and geo-strategic influence put their head together to outline global religious diplomacy setting aside their traditional extravagant pride and prejudices.

In scattered ways, some glimpse of religious diplomacy has been spotted in recent measures including US-led Qatar talks with Taliban, Moscow-driven peace talks, Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), Quadrilateral Coordination Group in collaboration with China-US-Afghanistan-Pakistan and Afghan officials’ latest attempt to woo JUI-S head Maulana Sami ul Haq, known as father of Taliban to play his role to establish peace in the region.

Using religious diplomacy without taking on board all stakeholders, US strove to negotiate with the Taliban since its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Qatar office was set up in 2013. However office was made defunct after insurgent Taliban projected itself as an Islamic government in exile.

In 2015, the United States, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan joined hands to embark on peace talks with Taliban establishing Quadrilateral Coordination Group. The attempt proved to be exercise in futile when leadership succession crisis erupted after Mullah Omar, the founding leader of the Taliban, died.

Current developments increased the scope of religious diplomacy when a delegation of Afghanistan’s Islamic scholars met Pakistan officials to foster on-going confidence-building measures between the two countries. Both countries are on same page of forming the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS).

The APAPPS features some innate unanimity like nabbing “irreconcilable and fugitive elements” on both sides; denying territories to anti-state groups or individuals; creating a joint supervision, coordination, and confirmation mechanism through liaison officers for the realisation of agreed actions; avoiding land and air violations of each other’s territory; and avoiding the public blame game by using cooperation mechanisms to respond to mutual contentions and concerns.

Efficacy of religious channel came to fore once it was direly needed to invalidate Jihad if waged against state. Afghanistan sought help of Pakistani clergy to issue Islamic decree that armed insurgency was legally prohibited against Muslim rulers.

Soon, around 1,900 ulema from all Muslim schools of thought issued a unanimous decree, defining jihad as being the sole domain of the state and forbidden the use of force to compel obedience to Islamic laws. Later scholars from Pakistan and Indonesia, in Jakarta, released a joint declaration pressing hard the Taliban to strike peace deal with Afghan government.

In another development of Riyadh process, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr Qibla Ayaz, played his role but Taliban failed the attempt.

Given the fresh circumstances when ISIS is setting its foot deeper in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen When various splinter groups of Al-Qaida and Taliban are getting regrouped when Pakistan is eliminating terror networks when China is purging radical elements from its territory, it has been indispensable to thrash out a religious narrative with unanimity.

To my perspective international diplomacy may prepare basic connotation of religious narrative with the help of clerics and scholars of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. The religious narrative should never be polluted with international politics, regional disputes and biases of race, colour, language, gender, creed and sect.

Religious narratives should prioritise terrorism and extremism as a sole enemy. It should target all of their forms even camouflaged with Islam and other religions. Strictly speaking new religious narrative is last chance to establish peace otherwise neither rich nor poor country will last long.

To begin with, religious narrative may be framed as test case in Afghanistan. US, China, Russia, UK and Europe should encourage Pakistan to take a centre stage in the initiative.

Recently a move has been made by some Afghanistan influential to woo JUI-S head Maulana Sami ul Haq. Surprisingly he asked China to play a role as an arbitrator in peace negotiations with Taliban. Showing faith on China, he said that China should never leave issue solely to America as latter had long history of betrayal.

Pakistan Muslim Scholars believed that Afghan peace deal will also favour China as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist militant group formed by members of China’s Muslim Uighur community, has developed proxies in Afghanistan to operate.

Startling manifestation of religious diplomacy is quite visible in new PTI-led government which calmed down an anti-Islam cartoon crisis that could have played havoc.

After Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) advanced their march towards Islamabad over blasphemous caricature contest announced in Netherlands giving ultimatum to government to sever all diplomatic relation with Netherlands as a sheer protest, PTI government first condemned the issue loud and clear. Later Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi managed to persuade TLP to cancel the March as Netherlands announced not to hold objectionable cartoon contest.

Fingers are crossed with great hope that religious diplomacy will be given fair chance to get exploited to let peace prevail.


n             The writer is a senior journalist working for China Today and China Radio International. He also contributes to national mainstreams newspapers on economy, international relation and human rights. He is a fellow of ICFJ.