- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

America's Muslim allies are demanding a halt to the bombing of Afghanistan on Nov. 17 for the holy month of Ramadan, but Muslim nations have rarely halted their own military operations during that period.
In fact, the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973 is known in the Arab Middle East as the Ramadan War, since it took place during the holy month.
Leaders in Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia all countries allied to the U.S. war on terrorism but all threatened by domestic Islamic fundamentalists have called for a halt to the U.S. bombing campaign.
"Continuing to bomb Afghanistan at current levels during Ramadan would be an 'affront' to Muslims everywhere," said Egyptian presidential adviser Osama Baz.
The Prophet Muhammad himself was victorious at the Battle of Badr in the month of Ramadan and years later he began a campaign to reclaim Mecca during the holy month, but Pakistan's deputy chief of mission in Washington, Zamir Akram, said yesterday "during the month of Ramadan we call for a pause to show respect for Islamic tradition."
However, the Taliban regime controlling Afghanistan since 1996 and protecting accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden has not shown much respect for Ramadan, said a spokesman for the opposition Northern Alliance.
"The Taliban has always violated the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan with massacres and ethnic cleansings," said Haron Amin, the Northern Alliance spokesman in Washington. "In 1998 during Ramadan, they drove 150,000 people from their homes in ethnic cleansing of the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. Ramadan is for fasting, not a month to stop fighting terrorism."
During the Afghan War against Soviet occupation, mujahideen Islamic guerrillas continued fighting during Ramadan.
During the 1988 Ramadan liberation of Barikot, for example, the first town abandoned by the Soviet-backed Afghan communists, fighters halted to pray and refrained from food and water until sunset but continued their military operations.
During the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, which killed up to 1 million people, both sides continued to fight during Ramadan, said John Voll, professor of Islamic History at Georgetown University.
"In the Iran-Iraq war, neither side stopped fighting," he said.
In some ways, say analysts and officials of mainly Muslim countries, the United States is being held to a higher standard than Muslim nations.
"If the United States was an Islamic country, there would be less of a problem," Mr. Voll said.
Mr. Voll said there is concern that governments in Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority could be destabilized by U.S. bombing during Ramadan.
"One way the United States can show its respect for Islam is some kind of cessation of bombing on Ramadan," said Mr. Voll.
"The most dramatic would be to have everything cease. But if we announce no bombing of any urban areas, and targets would be limited to terrorist caves and camps, it would not satisfy everyone but be a significant gesture."
Mr. Amin of the Northern Alliance said that a halt in bombing would allow the Taliban to regroup, replace its bombed assets and hide bin Laden in a better place.
He accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency of continuing to resupply the Taliban with weapons and other goods even though Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has replaced the ISI chief and joined Pakistan to the anti-Taliban coalition.
The reason that supporters of the Taliban have been able to raise the Ramadan issue among their followers in the streets of Muslim countries is that the U.S.-led coalition is weak, said a Central Asian official close to the war on terrorism.
Saudi Arabia, for example, was a Taliban supporter until the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Many Saudis still support the Taliban and probably supply it with funds and war materials, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said yesterday in Washington about the Ramadan issue: "We must take those sensitivities into account, and we will take them into account.
"But it does not make sense to indicate up front what might be our military intentions during that period.
"And it certainly wouldn't make military sense to afford the Taliban regime, which has been under very considerable pressure in recent times, the opportunity of regrouping, reorganizing, during a predictable period of time. That is not a sensible way to run a military operation."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was equally cryptic about U.S. plans, warning that the war would not be derailed by Ramadan.
"We, clearly, are interested in the views and opinions and sensitivities, and that each country has their own circumstance and their own neighborhood they live in, and we're respectful of those."
Mr. Akram of the Pakistan Embassy said that bombing Afghanistan has apparently strengthened the Taliban, according to news reports he has read.
"The Taliban successfully has portrayed it as anti-Afghan, not anti-Taliban," Mr. Akram said.

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