Two were killed and two more injured in an explosion at the Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque on Tuesday evening. An hour later, Ministry of Interior spokesman Tariq Arian announced that Mullah Mohammad Ayaz Niazi, the mosque’s imam, had been killed.
Arian’s tweet read: “Today’s incident is a continuation of the terrorist crimes against the Ulema, holy places and places of worship. Attacking worshippers and scholars is an unforgivable act… Their actions are not in line with any of the laws of humanity and Islam.”
“Targeting mosques, places of worship, hospitals, public facilities and sinless civilians is crime against humanity,” President Ashraf Ghani said.
The U.S. Charge d’Affaires to Afghanistan Ross Wilson also had the same thoughts. “Houses of worship are refuges of prayer and love, not violence and death.”
Niazi was famous in Kabul.
He was born in Yemgan district in Badakhshan province. He graduated from Al-Azhar University in Egypt with a master’s degree in Islamic economics and had a Ph.D. in international relations from the perspective of Islamic jurisprudence. He was a moderate scholar who had also taught at Kabul University.
His sermons were so well attended that worshippers would often spill out into the grounds of the mosque. He always advised his audience to practice moderation when he gave public speeches.
After the brutal lynching and burning of the Farkhunda in 2015 after she was falsely accused of burning the Quran, Niazi had angered many people when he tried to justify the obvious crime. Many women turned against him that day. They did not let him perform the prayers on the day of Farkhunda’s funeral.
After that, Niazi became a moderate, and in some cases, critical of Afghan terrorist groups and those who were pro-terrorism. In the country’s ongoing conflict with the Taliban, Niazi became an exemplary impartial religious scholar.
Critics might say he did not speak out about being anti-Taliban. Nevertheless, he became one of the countless victims of this unfinished war.
The position of the Afghan government
Contrary to recent bloody incidents where various Afghan government officials have specifically blamed Taliban, no one has come forward to name the culprit yet.
None of the terrorist groups within Afghanistan have come forward to claim the incident.
The Afghan Presidential Palace’s (ARG) statement has been, “The ruthless enemies of Afghanistan once again perpetrated an act of terror…”
The ARG also released photos of Ghani paying his respects to the body of Niazi. The president called for the establishment of a six-member delegation to investigate the incident and bring the “perpetrators” of this heinous incident to justice.
No names were taken, be they the Islamic State or any of the other groups.
The “perpetrator” would be arrested and punished for their actions, assured Sediq Sediqqi, the president’s spokesman.
But sadly, experience has shown that contrary to what has been said, there could come a day when the criminal could be proudly released from prison.
An exchange of prisoners is not just a “humanitarian” or “goodwill” gesture. It is a political transaction in Afghanistan where they return to the trenches of war with just a slap on their wrist for taking a life. There is no reformation in their actions.
Even on the afternoon after the attack, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, wrote on his Facebook page: “This cowardly attack is clearly against the holy religion of Islam, the religious and spiritual community and all the people of Afghanistan. It is not permitted any religion.”
Abdullah did not name a group and delivered a general statement of condemnation.
The Afghan government’s stance just reiterated what the international community said.
The attack was a bad event. Yes.
It was done by bad people. Yes.
It was inhumane. Yes.
Other than that, there is nothing more than rhetoric.
The Taliban’s response
In the past, after every suicide bombing in Kabul or other provinces, terrorist groups would compete to take responsibility. There was a figurative timer set to see who would come first.
The Taliban clearly won. It claimed responsibility for many of the attacks.
But this time, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denounced the attack and wrote: “We are saddened to learn that the imam of the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, Mullah Mohammad Ayaz Niazi, was killed in an explosion. We strongly condemn the attack and consider it a major crime.”
This was something new.
Since the ceasefire was announced, the Taliban has condemned bombings, suicide attacks and gunfire. Something which was part of their modus operandi, is now a “major crime.”
So, now the question is, if the Taliban is not responsible for this incident, then who? Which other terror outfit has appeared on the scene to baffle the Afghan government and the Taliban?
The Taliban has been vehemently denying allegations.
In a statement by the group after the now much debated UN report, they said, “Similar, baseless intelligence-based and bigoted remarks” to “keep the fire of war raging” in Afghanistan.
The group’s response and the Afghan government’s statements show that they are expecting another group to come forward and bear the brunt because if the Taliban is responsible, then where would this leave the peace talks?
The Taliban is on a slippery slope. If even one of their statements falls through, their entire stance will crumble during the intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
However, in light of that sensitive situation, if we believe Taliban to not be the perpetrator, then which other group would benefit from removing moderate voices of religious scholars in Afghanistan who are aligned with the government?
Contributed by Zackaria Noori; Edited by Anugya Chitransh