Powerful religious leaders in Afghanistan are growing uneasy about the challenge to their authority posed by rare civil rights protests in Kabul and widespread anger over the lynching of a young woman wrongly accused of burning a Koran.

The highest religious authority, the Ulema Council, exerts considerable influence in a country that remains deeply conservative despite significant changes since the hardline Islamist Taliban fell in 2001.

But a series of demonstrations in the capital Kabul promoting women’s rights has prompted the clerics to threaten to withdraw support for President Ashraf Ghani in a challenge to his new government.

Some Ulema members say that Ghani, who took office in September, has failed to consult with them and seek their advice to the same extent that his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, did.

Numbering some 3,000 clerics and scholars, and headed by a 150-strong National Council, the Ulema can sway public opinion significantly through mosques across the country that are still the main source of Afghan social cohesion.

In recent months, a women’s rights activist walked around Kabul in a body suit with large breasts and buttocks. In another demonstration, a group of men assembled in public wearing all-covering blue burqas worn by most women in Afghanistan.

“We ask the government to tell them (civil rights groups) to stop. Otherwise, we know how to stop them,” Ulema Council member Enayatullah Baligh, an adviser to the president and university lecturer, told Reuters at his office.

“I have 7,000 supporters who will obey any orders I give them. I can turn Kabul city upside down.”

Baligh blamed the government, which has been hobbled by internal power struggles, for failing to enforce laws that would require it to punish those who offended Islam… see more

source: reuters