India's top court extends term of arbitrators in Ayodhya temple dispute

An Indian worker dusts a model of the proposed Hindu Temple in Ayodhya. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 May 2019

India's top court extends term of arbitrators in Ayodhya temple dispute

  • The extension makes the contentious issue less likely to fuel religious tension during a seven-phase general election that started on April 11
  • It came after the panel, set up in March with an initial deadline of eight weeks and headed by former judge F. M. Kalifulla, handed over the report

NEW DELHI: India's Supreme Court on Friday extended by three months the term of a panel arbitrating a decades-long dispute over plans to build a Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya.
The extension makes the contentious issue less likely to fuel religious tension during a seven-phase general election that started on April 11, with votes set to be counted on May 23.
The panel has been given until Aug. 15, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, raising hopes for an amicable settlement of India's biggest religious dispute, with a history of unleashing riots in many parts of the country.
"There was a plea from the mediators' panel to extend the term until Aug 15 and we have agreed," Gogoi said after receiving a preliminary report from the panel.
The extension came after the panel, set up in March with an initial deadline of eight weeks and headed by former judge F. M. Kalifulla, handed over the report, which was not made public.
Months before the election, Hindu allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had ratcheted up their demand for a temple to be built at the site many Hindus consider to be the birthplace of a revered deity, Lord Ram.
But just ahead of the election, conservative Hindu groups put the temple plan on the backburner.
A violent Hindu mob destroyed the mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, triggering riots that killed about 2,000 people in one of the worst episodes of sectarian violence since India's partition from Pakistan at independence from colonial rule in 1947.
Since the mosque demolition, the Supreme Court has kept control of the site in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of MPs to parliament.
The Supreme Court, which had been weighing petitions from both Hindu and Muslim communities over what should be built in Ayodhya, set up the arbitration panel on March 8.
Hindu groups say there was a temple at the site in Ayodhya before the mosque was erected by a Muslim ruler in 1528.
The dispute has fuelled tension and ill-feeling between majority Hindus and the Muslim minority, which makes up about 14 percent of India's population of 1.3 billion.


American air strike kills five Taliban fighters: US official

Updated 48 min 8 sec ago

American air strike kills five Taliban fighters: US official

  • Violence has escalated in recent weeks with clashes taking place between the insurgents and government troops across the country
KABUL: A US air strike launched to support Afghan security forces killed five Taliban fighters in central Afghanistan on Sunday evening, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan said.
Violence has escalated in recent weeks with clashes taking place between the insurgents and government troops across the country, while negotiators from both sides have held talks in Qatar for a peace deal that could allow Washington to withdraw its remaining forces and end the United States’ longest war. Col. Sonny Leggett, the US military spokesman in Kabul, said the air strike in Wardak province was conducted to defend Afghan government troops and targeted Taliban fighters, killing five.
He said the action was in accordance with terms of the United States withdrawal agreement struck with the Taliban in February.
“We reject the allegations of violating the agreement and of killing innocent Afghans,” Leggett said, without elaborating.
When asked for comment, a Taliban spokesman said that there had been no fighting when the strike took place, and it broke the terms of agreement.
“This attack is a violation of the agreement and we condemn it,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Earlier this month, the Taliban accused the United States of violating the agreement following air strikes in southern Helmand province, where government forces were desperately trying to repel hundreds of insurgents seeking to seize control of the provincial capital Laskhar Gah.
Diplomats and officials say the rising violence is undermining trust needed if the talks in Qatar are to succeed.
The United States’ special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier this month that he had met with Taliban representatives to agree to a ‘re-set’ of the US-Taliban deal in order to reduce the violence.
The Taliban has so far rejected repeated calls for a cease-fire by foreign powers and the Afghan government.