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Ramadan looms large in Afghan strikes



By CNN's Craig Francis

(CNN) -- The onset of the bitter Central Asian winter has been identified as the defining deadline facing the United States' military action in Afghanistan.

But the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan about two weeks earlier could force their hand even sooner.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that any decision on whether to continue the campaign during the Ramadan would be based on military, not diplomatic, reasons.

"It is a very important religious period, and we will take that into account," he said speaking two weeks into the U.S.-led strikes.

 Facts about Ramadan
Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset to conform to the fourth pillar of Islam.
Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days, and is determined by the sighting of the new moon.
Muslims will refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or engaging in sexual relations during their fast.
After 30 days of fasting, the end of the month of Ramadan is observed with a day of celebration, called Eid-al-Fitr.
(Source: CNN)

"We will have to see where the mission is at that point, and what needs to be done, and I will yield to my colleagues in the Pentagon as to what we will do as we approach the season of Ramadan." The holy month is expected to begin on November 17.

Although battles have been waged during Ramadan through the ages, the United States will be aware that any fighting on Muslim soil during this period could strain relations with the Islamic countries who have given at least tacit backing to the strikes against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.

Five pillars of Islam

The importance of the fasting month of Ramadan on the psyche of the Muslim cannot be underestimated.

One of the five pillars of Islam, the pressure on all Muslims to remain faithful to Islam is never more obvious than at this time.

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Musharraf hopes strikes end by Ramadan 
 

Military action against a Muslim nation by a Western power could test the almost universal government support the U.S. war on terrorism has engendered.

Speaking at the APEC summit in Shanghai, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said the situation could become extremely volatile.

He warned of "explosions across the Muslim world if the U.S. military campaign continues into the holy period of Ramadan."

Pakistan, battling internally with its own militant Muslim factions, has also urged the United States to cease hostilities during Ramadan.

"One would hope and wish that this campaign comes to an end before the month of Ramadan and one would hope for restraint during the month of Ramadan because this would certainly have some negative effects in the Muslim world," said Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Hearts and minds

History shows that Muslims have fought both foreign invaders and enemies from within their own faith during Ramadan.

From Sallah eddine al-Ayoubi's defeat of the Crusaders in the 1100s, through to the Syrian-Egyptian armies launching their 1973 war against Israel, many battles have been waged during Ramadan.

In strife-torn Algeria, violence has often intensified during Ramadan when most Muslims renew their faith through fasting and prayer -- the logic of the violent minority using the occasion to prove their faith through violence and murder.

But in an age where diplomacy and public image can determine the allegiance of entire populations, Western forces have shown a reluctance to engage in conflict with Muslim countries during Ramadan to avoid inciting Islamic sensitivities.

As recently as 1998, the West has based military decisions in the Middle East on the timing of Ramadan, which starts about 10 days earlier each year.

In response to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's breach of UN obligations, the United States' and Britain's sensitivity to the holy month of Ramadan prompted it to launch four days of fierce air attacks on Baghdad ahead of the fasting month.

'Fault line'

If allied forces were to be fighting in Afghanistan during Ramadan, it would only add strength to Osama Bin Laden's claim to be struggling against the imperial forces of "Crusaders and Jews", Rahul Bedi, a military analyst with Jane's Information Group told CNN.

"The first potential fault line facing the United States and its coalition with Arab states is Israel, with its obvious divisive potential," he said. "The second is Ramadan." "Ramadan is a time for Muslims of remembering God and not for fighting.

"If the U.S. was to wage war during Ramadan, it could be seen as being completely insensitive to Arabs worldwide".



 
 
 
 



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