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Viewpoint: Why fund the Haqqania seminary?

PTI leader Imran Khan is under well-deserved criticism for his KPK government’s allocation of Rs 300 million for Maulana Samiul Haq’s seminary, Darul Aloom Haqqania at Akhora Khattak, which is well-known for its Taliban connection. The seminary boasts alumni like Afghan Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, Jalaluddin Haqqani of the much-feared Haqqani network as well as Asim Umar, Ayman al Zawahiri’s chosen chief of the al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. Four extremists accused of involvement in the assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto had also spent time at this seminary. No wonder the Taliban trust him so much that when in 2014 the government tried to talk to them, the TTP had nominated Maulana Haq to negotiate on its behalf.

Addressing a press conference last Friday, Imran tried to defend his decision arguing first, that the Maulana had refused to accept a grant offered by the Musharraf government out of the billions it had received from the West for madressah reform. If he did refuse that would be because it must have required severing connections with violent extremists. In any case, that is irrelevant to the current conversation. Second and more importantly, the PTI chief claimed that progressive reforms are being implemented to better integrate seminary students into the mainstream, thereby implying that the Haqqania seminary is to turn away from its jihadist ideology and focus on imparting religious education alongside subjects taught in the mainstream schools. If there is an agreement between Maulana Samiul Haq and the KPK government to modernise the syllabus so as to make young people productive members of society that needs to be made known.

Third, he said, those criticising the funding know “little of Pakistani society” posing the question, “are millions of students studying in these seminaries terrorists?” Of course not all seminary students are terrorists, but most terrorists at one or the other point attended madressahs. These are not traditional madressahs that had no political agendas to pursue, and provided only religious education, food, and shelter to children from poor families. They are in the business of preparing terrorism recruits. Which is why the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP), based on an all-party consensus, including Imran’s own, among other things, called for “regularisation and reform of madressahs.” The NAP in fact contains the answer to his question.

The problem therefore are the sectarian seminaries promoting jihadist ideology to fight the Gulf countries proxy war, and in the process also forming a nexus with extremists battling the state. To give just one example of how these madressahs came to have a vested interest in promoting violent religious extremism, a WikiLeaks report quoting a November 2008 cable (note that it was a confidential communication not meant for public consumption and propaganda) sent by the US Consulate in Lahore to the State Department in Washington, revealed that Deobandi and Ahle Hadith seminary clerics in south Punjab alone received as much as $100 million annually from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “The initial success of establishing madrassahs and mosques in these areas led to subsequent annual ‘donations’ to these same clerics,” said the cable. Here is what they did with the money (apart from lining their own pockets): They recruited children from extremely poor families after assessment of their inclination “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture.” While taking some children from families “with severe financial difficulties” and paying them around Rs 40,000, ‘martyrdom’ was also discussed. The result we would see in form of south Punjab becoming a ‘Punjabi Taliban’ stronghold, and an endless stream of suicide bombers. Money clearly is central to the sustenance of the terrorist enterprise in this country, and hence a key concern of those who really know this society.

Few are willing to accept the PTI Chairman’s justification for providing generous funding to a seminary with a well-established record of producing violent extremists. The PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari issued a sniping statement on Monday, questioning allocation of Rs 300 million to the Darul Uloom Haqqania run by the “Father of Taliban”, prompting a rejoinder from PTI information secretary Nadeemul Haq. Repeating much of what Imran had said before Haq went on to remind Zardari that his slain wife, prime minister Benazir Bhutto, had not only visited the seminary but had also provided financial support to it. That though does not help first because two wrongs do not make a right, and second because she made that ill-judged decision during a relative peaceful time when the security establishment deliberately cultivated such elements in aid of a harebrained policy aimed at achieving certain regional objectives.

The PTI is doing it when we know the devastating consequences of that policy. It seems to be acting out of one of the two following reasons, or both. One could be the PTI leader’s own suspected empathy for such elements; and second KPK politics. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) split into two in the mid-1980s. S splinter group headed by Maulana Samiul Haq (JUI-S) maintained a closer relationship with the General Zia regime than JUI-F. The PTI sees JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who has a considerable political presence in the province, as its serious challenger in electoral politics. And hence it may be feeling the need to have Maulana Samiul Haq, who is an inveterate opponent of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, on his side. Whatever the reason, in boosting up an extremist den with liberal funding, Imran has demonstrated he was never the Liberal Democrat he has been leading his supporters to believe.

Saida Fazal, "Viewpoint: Why fund the Haqqania seminary?," Business Recorder. 2016-07-01.
Keywords: Political science , Madressah reform , Religious education , Jihadist ideology , Financial crises , Pakistan , KPK , PPP , TTP , PTI , NAP , UAE , JUI , JUI-F , JUI-S