The Taliban and the Pakistani military are both mourning the loss of Maulana Sami ul-Haq, an extremist cleric who was murdered in a knife attack yesterday. The 80-year-old Haq was widely known as the “father of the Taliban,” an honorary title he earned by running a seminary that indoctrinated many of the group’s leaders and bolstered their ranks with fighters.
Haq’s extremist views were never hidden. He once compared Taliban founder Mullah Omar to an “angel” and described Osama bin Laden as a “hero.”
In its eulogy, the Taliban says it is “with great sadness” that it learned the “renowned Islamic scholar of Pakistan and chancellor of Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania,” Maulana Haq, “was martyred by unknown assailants.”
The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers” Haq’s “martyrdom…a great loss for the entire Islamic Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] and specifically for the Muslim nation of Pakistan,” the Taliban’s statement reads.
The jihadists extend their “deepest condolences” to Haq’s family and the “Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam [JUI] party in Pakistan,” to which Haq belonged. (Haq has been top figure in a splinter faction of the JUI.) The Taliban goes on to praise Haq for his “unforgettable services and assistance to the oppressed Afghan nation against the Soviet and American invasions,” while condemning the “cowardly” and “murderous attack” that left him dead.
The Pakistani military and intelligence services have harbored the Taliban’s senior leadership for the past 17 years. So it is not surprising that the Pakistani military’s mouthpiece, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), also issued a statement expressing its “grief and condolences to” Haq’s “bereaved family.”
The Pakistani military “strongly condemns [the] assassination of renowned religious scholar and political leader” Maulana Sami ul-Haq, the ISPR said.
The ISPR’s statement, which was promoted on social media (see the tweet on the right), unwittingly highlights the duplicity and complexity of various actors in the region. The Pakistani armed forces honored Haq, even though he holds great sway among members of the Pakistani Taliban, which targets parts of the Pakistani state.
Haq’s father, Abdul Haq Akorwi, established the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania madrassa in 1947. Since the late 1980s, Haq has led the seminary, which is located in Akora Khattak, not far from Peshawar. During the tenures of both Haq and his father, the seminary educated many men who went on to become key figures in the jihadist scene.
Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania’s most notorious graduates include Jalaluddin Haqqani, a powerbroker along the Afghan-Pakistan border who was one of Osama bin Laden’s earliest and most influential allies. The Taliban announced Haqqani’s death in early September.
Haqqani’s eponymous network originally took its name from Haq’s madrassa, as Jalaluddin and some of his commanders were alumni. Today, the Haqqani Network is an integral part of the Taliban and is currently led by Jalaluddin’s son, Sirajuddin (Siraj). Siraj has served as the Taliban’s #2, or deputy emir, since 2015.
Given Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania’s role in buttressing the Taliban, and Haq’s own personal ties to Taliban leaders, it is not surprising that the organization condemns his death. Haq was described as the “father of the Taliban” for good reasons.
Close to the Taliban’s founder
In his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid quotes Haq at length and explains his crucial role in providing leaders and fighters for the Taliban. In 1999, by Rashid’s count, “at least eight Taliban cabinet ministers in Kabul were graduates of Haq’s Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania and dozens [of other] graduates served as Taliban governors in the provinces, military commanders, judges and bureaucrats.”
One of the madrassa’s graduates is Khairullah Khairkhwa, a close advisor to Mullah Omar who served the Taliban in a variety of roles. As the governor of the western Herat province, Khairkhwa helped negotiate with Iran in late 2001, as the Iranians were eager to help the Taliban in its war against American-led forces.
Some accounts list the Taliban’s first emir, Mullah Omar, as a one-time student at Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania. But according to what Haq told Rashid, this wasn’t the case.
“Before 1994 I did not know Mullah Omar because he had not studied in Pakistan,” Haq told Rashid, “but those around him [Omar] were all Haqqania students and came to see me frequently to discuss what to do.”
Haq took credit for influencing the Taliban’s founding. “I advised them not to set up a party because the ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] was still trying to play one Mujaheddin party against the other in order to keep them divided,” Haq explained to Rashid. “I told them to start a student movement,” Haq added. “When the Taliban movement began I told the ISI, ‘let the students take over Afghanistan’.”
“I met Omar for the first time when I went to Kandahar in 1996 and I was proud that he was chosen as Amir-ul Momineen” (Amir of the Faithful), Haq is quoted as saying in Rashid’s book. Omar “has no money, tribe or pedigree but he is revered above all others and so Allah chose him to be their leader.”
“According to Islam the man who can bring peace can be elected the Amir,” Haq claimed. “When the Islamic revolution comes to Pakistan it will not be led by the old defunct leaders like me, but by a similar unknown man who will arise from the masses.”
Haq had “deep respect for Mullah Omar” and the two were in “constant touch,” Rashid found. Haq helped the Taliban founder “deal with international relations” and provided “advice on important Sharia decisions.”
According to Rashid, Haq was the “principle organizer for recruiting Pakistani students to fight for the Taliban.” A telling episode occurred in 1997. After the Taliban suffered a defeat at the hands of its enemies, Omar called Haq to ask for help. Haq “shut down his madrassa and sent his entire student body to fight alongside the Taliban,” Rashid writes in Taliban. In 1998, Haq “organized a meeting between Taliban leaders and 12 madrassas in the NWFP [North-West Frontier Province] to organize reinforcements for the Taliban army.” The madrassas complied, supplying Mullah Omar and his commanders with “8,000 students” during a one month shut down.
Therefore, Haq’s Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania has been the crown jewel in a Deobandi support network that feeds the Taliban. And the madrassa has received funding from the Pakistani state.
Haq told Rashid that Pakistani intelligence initially eschewed his establishment during the war against the Soviets. But Haq’s madrassa did receive state funding in the years that followed.
In 2016, the Washington Post reported that the provincial government was providing the institute with millions of dollars.
This arrangement continued into 2018, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Frud Bezhan, who reported that the madrassa continued to receive significant funding from official sources despite supplying fighters for both the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistani funds flowed, even though Haq openly backed the war against the Afghan government and its foreign allies.
In an interview with Reuters in 2013, Haq described Mullah Omar as a “virtuous” and “angel-like human being.” Haq demanded that the “outsiders” leave Afghanistan. Otherwise, there would be no peace. He also insisted that the Taliban should rule over the country once again. “Give them just one year and they will make the whole of Afghanistan happy,” Haq said of the Taliban. “The whole of Afghanistan will be with them…Once the Americans leave, all of this will happen within a year.”
Other jihadists mourn Haq
The Afghan Taliban isn’t the only jihadist group mourning Haq. Tehrik-e-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), which targets elements of the Pakistani state, issued its own eulogy for the veteran ideologue. That Pakistani Taliban’s graphic honoring Haq can be seen below:
The Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda also eulogized Jalaluddin Haqqani after his death was announced in early September.
It is likely that other al Qaeda-linked groups will commemorate Haq’s life in the coming days, as his madrassa served as a feeder for multiple organizations in South Asia. In 2012, al Qaeda decried the death of a Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania cleric, noting that many of his students had joined the jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2014, Reuters reported that Asim Umar, the emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), had “studied” at Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania. However, there are conflicting details concerning Umar’s career, depending on which sources one consults. It is also possible that Umar served as an instructor at the seminary, though that it isn’t clear.
Haq has expressed a favorable view of al Qaeda in the past. During an interview with Peter Bergen in September 1998, Haq described Osama bin Laden as a “hero.” The interview took place just weeks after al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And Haq tried to argue that America was inflating bin Laden’s personal importance.
“I think America has made Osama a supernatural being. Wherever the terrorism occurs, right away they think of him,” Haq said, according to Bergen’s The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader. “I don’t think he has such influence, or such control and resources. Osama bin Laden has become a symbol for the whole Islamic world.”
Haq added: “All those outside powers who are trying to crush Muslims interfering with them; he is the courageous one who raised his voice against them. Yes, he is a hero to us, but it is America itself who first made him a hero.”
Maulana Sami ul-Haq, Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Osama bin Laden are all now dead. But the networks they built and inspired live on.