KABUL Afghanistan's Taliban have urged Afghan Muslims to resist anyone trying to convert them, after a television network aired pictures of U.S. soldiers in the country with bibles translated into local languages.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera television showed footage on Monday of a bible studies class on a U.S. base in Afghanistan where a soldier had brought a stack of bibles translated into the Afghan languages Dari and Pashto.
The U.S. military bans its soldiers from attempting to convert people to any religion while on active duty. It said commanders confiscated and destroyed the bibles, and they were never distributed to Afghans.
A statement posted on a Taliban website, alemarah1.org, said converting Afghans to Christianity was part of the U.S. war plan. U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda leaders after the September 11 attacks.
"The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) strongly urges Mujahideen, religious scholars and all religious ... circles to seriously monitor such moves and activities of the invaders and crusaders and not allow anyone to promulgate and spread the abolished religions apart from Islam in a Muslim country," it said.
It called on Pope Benedict to prevent the preaching of Christianity in Afghanistan and warned him of grave consequences if he failed to do so.
In the Al Jazeera video, a military chaplain was shown delivering a sermon to other soldiers, saying: "The special forces guys -- they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
But U.S. military officials said there was no evidence that
soldiers had actually attempted any proselytising in Afghanistan.
General Order Number 1 from the U.S. military's Central Command forbids active duty troops, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, from trying to convert people.
The U.S.-backed Afghan government, which largely relies on West's aid and troops for its security, has not commented about the Al Jazeera pictures. So far there has been little public response to the reports.
Violence in Afghanistan in the past year has reached its highest level since the Taliban's ouster, despite increasing numbers of American and other foreign troops.
Trying to convert Muslims to any other faith is a crime in Afghanistan. An Afghan man who converted to Christianity was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2006 but was allowed to leave the country after an uproar in the West.
Afghanistan has seen bloody demonstrations in recent years after cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad were published in Denmark and after allegations emerged that U.S. troops in Guantanamo Bay mistreated the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin, Editing by Dean Yates)