Inside the Pakistan madrassa notorious for jihadist links

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The head of Darul Uloom Haqqaniah, arguably one of the most notorious Islamic madrassas in Pakistan, laughed, “We are no longer called ‘Jihad University’ but the Taliban cabinet’s university.”

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Surrounded by one of the crouches on the floor kissing his feet, Maulana Hamid-ul-Haq jokes about the adoring supporters, nicknames given by critics who have repeatedly termed school bigotry. That’s because its alumni include some of the Taliban’s most powerful and feared leaders, many of whom are on global wanted lists and now in their new cabinet after the group took control of neighboring Afghanistan last month.

Among those close to the school, located about 100 km from the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan, is Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed reclusive cleric-warrior who sheltered Osama bin Laden. Ul-Haq states that the seminary awarded him an honorary doctorate because he brought “peace to Afghanistan and the region”.


The biggest names from the infamous Haqqani Network, a US-designated terrorist group affiliated with the Taliban, have taught there, including its founders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Khalil Haqqani, who is now the Taliban’s minister for refugees. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid is also a graduate.

But despite this ul-Haq, 54 vehemently rejected the allegation that the school is a factory of violence. The former member of parliament, who now leads a religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S), is deeply proud of Taliban connections and is lyrical about his meetings with Jalauddin and his son Sirajuddin, The Taliban’s new interior minister (a wanted terrorist), whom they call “polite”, “well-behaved” and “visionary”.

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He sees the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan and the announcement of his interim cabinet as further legitimizing his position and calls on the West to recognize him to “prevent more war”.

“We do not want to be known as the University of Terror or Warriors. We are proud that many of our alumni are in the Taliban cabinet,” says ul-Haq, adding that more than half a dozen Taliban ministers have either attended madrassas – or schools – or have sent family members there.

“It means the Taliban thinks these people are visionary, humane and well-educated.”

“They were chosen because they know the political ups and downs, they know how to deal with the world,” he says with a smile.

America did not come to spread love and did not give flowers – they came to bomb the area and the Taliban were defending these people

Maulana Hamid-ul-Haq, head of Darul Uloom Haqqaniya

which day Granthshala She was interviewed to fall on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks mastermind by Osama bin Laden and which triggered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was sheltering.

Ul-Haq condemned the gruesome attacks that killed more than 2,700 people in the states, but claimed Osama bin Laden was not responsible and says the US offensive forced the Taliban to “defend themselves”. .

And so they say the 20th anniversary of the attacks, when Afghanistan was returned to Taliban hands after the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops, was “a kind of justice”.

“America did not come to spread love and not give flowers – they came to bomb the area and the Taliban were defending these people,” he says with force.

“Washington has made the right decision to leave. It was costing so much money but suffered a lot economically, politically and in terms of loss of life of its army. “

The world-renowned madrasah that embodies a radical brand of Sunni Islam known as Deobandi Islam, was founded by Hamid ul-Haq’s grandfather – an Islamic scholar named Abdul ul-Haq – in 1947 after Pakistan gained independence from the British. In the weeks after receiving.

Abdul ul-Haq’s successor was his son Sami ul-Haq, who was known as the “Father of the Taliban”, a name the family still sees as a badge of honour. Sami was later murdered by unidentified gunmen in 2018.

Now, twinkling in the sunlight, the new sprawling pink-coloured campus is home to about 2800 students, almost half the size of the student body in the past.

Streams of men in traditional Islamic dress, with prayer rugs on their shoulders, exit the mosque after Saturday morning prayers, behind a gate manned by Kalashnikov-equipped guards.

In front of him is an old car from the 1940s preserved behind glass windows, which says it was used by Abdul-ul-Haq in the 1970s as he toured the country giving speeches, but with It was he who took part in the movement against the (persecuted) Ahmadiyya religious. The community is a stark reminder of the ideological leanings of the place. Human Rights Watch says Ahmadis have been subjugated for targeted killings and violence over the decades.

Another reminder, of course, is the list of graduates. Among the most famous students of Darul Uloom Haqqaniah is Akhtar Mansoor, the supreme leader of the Taliban, who succeeded Mullah Omar until he was killed in a 2016 US drone strike in southwest Pakistan.

The infamous Haqqani Network and its founder Jalaluddin Haqqani took their name from the school because Jalaluddin studied there. (The Taliban deny the existence of a branch Haqqani network, and say that Jalaluddin is a top Taliban figure).

Jalaluddin, however, sent several of his sons, including Sirajuddin, the Taliban’s new interior minister, reportedly (though ul-Haq denies this). Sirajuddin has a US$10 million bounty on his head for his alleged involvement in the 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul and his links to al-Qaeda.

Ul-Haq confirmed that a number of other ministers studied here, including Taliban Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani and Refugees Minister Khalil Haqqani. Other ministers, including the Taliban’s co-founder, Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, sent their sons to school or had uncles and fathers who studied there.

And so the history of the madrasa is closely linked to the messy history of conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries that share a 2500 km border and have countless political, religious and cultural ties.

Pakistani experts told Granthshala The school gained prominence in the 1980s when it was supported by Western intelligence services, who paid for its activities as a useful place for cultivating the Mujahideen forces fighting next door from the Soviet Union. Those same experts say it was later heavily funded by Saudi Arabia and joined by the Taliban in the early 1990s from northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

“I interviewed Sami ul-Haq” [Hamid’s father] many times. He claimed his links with Osama bin Laden at one time,” recalls prominent Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, who has written several books about Pakistan’s struggle with militant Islam and its ties with Afghanistan.

“It can be called an ideological center for the Taliban on both sides of the border. “

Ahmed Rashid, who has written several books about the Taliban, said that the madrassa was also supported by Pakistan in the early 1990s as a way to counter warlords in lands adjacent to neighboring Afghanistan, whose major trade routes were But there was a throat.

At that time it became “world famous”.

“Students will come from all over the world. This was his first introduction to jihad,’ he said.

Both the experts said that Pakistan’s administration has never been assaulted despite connections. Its doors never closed, when the government vowed to crack down on unlicensed religious schools after the 2014 massacre of more than 100 school children in the nearby city of Peshawar, claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Pakistan arm of the Taliban. (TTP) did. (TTP reportedly also has links with the school).

Instead, Pakistani media in 2018 informed of that the local government gave more than 277 million rupees (about £1 million) to the madrasa, which was asked by Prime Minister Imran Khan to assure reform of the curriculum, but critics believe it to be politically motivated could.

Before the election held in the same year, ul-Haq’s father Sami and his JUI-S party entered briefly in a pre-poll allianceWith the Prime Minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which is set to widen its support base.

Fast forward to 2021 and the school has again taken center stage.

“When the Taliban cabinet was announced, I congratulated them over the phone and requested them to continue with great care as the world is watching them,” Hamid ul-Haq said. Granthshala, in his office.

He says he warned the Taliban against imminently imposing the harshest Sharia law punishment (citing the example of cursing women) because it could be considered a “human rights violation by the West”.

He says he hopes that when a comprehensive government is announced, it will be more inclusive and have women members.

“They should be careful so that the struggle does not go in vain,” he adds.

And this is the crux of the issue for neighboring Pakistan which has to work hard to move forward, as it builds ties with the Afghan Taliban administration while trying to stem the problem of domestic terrorism in the form of the linked TTP.

I hope [the Afghan Taliban] Will inspire the struggle for a true Islamic order here in Pakistan

Maulana Hamid ul Haq

Ul-Haq, who also leads a forum of about 20 religious parties, was one of many hardline religious figures in Pakistan who rejoiced over the Taliban’s acquisition of Afghanistan’s power as a victory over Western imperialism and secularism.

In a statement to his followers shortly after the Taliban announced the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, he told his followers that the Taliban had established “unmatched peace and security in Afghanistan” and that they should “inspire” similar change…


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