Across the world, Pakistan holds the distinction of being identified as the “pernicious cradle of terrorism”. It has constantly and unapologetically supported Islamic terrorism, most notably against India, Afghanistan, the United States and many other Western nations. Terror organisations like Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Taliban and several other outfits have free rein in Pakistan. In fact, they have mushroomed and enjoyed unfettered state support in Pakistan.
Pakistan has also emerged as a safe haven for the terrorists where the government, both political and Pakistani Army, goes to great lengths, to hide, safeguard and protect terrorists that serve to fulfil their covert propaganda. As a result, it has been on FATF grey list since June 2018 for providing a conducive environment for the terrorists and terror outfits to operate and proliferate on its soil.
But what has fuelled this transformation of an Islamic nation to a terror factory? What has made Pakistan the sought-after destination for all the terrorists in the world, given that even Al Qaeda terrorist and the mastermind of the US 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan’s Abbottabad? Where do terror organisations that operate in Pakistan draw fresh blood from? How do they seamlessly transition their leadership without undergoing any visible hiccups?
Darul Uloom Haqqania- The “University of Jihad”
A news report by the AFP recently attempted to answer these questions. The report centred around an influential Islamic seminary, that is infamous for constantly churning out terrorists that have gone on to become linchpins of various terror outfits active in the country. Darul Uloom Haqqania, the Islamic seminary dubbed as the “university of jihad” is the organisation that has played a central role in sowing seeds of Islamic jihad among impressionable individuals and provided terror organisations with much-needed manpower.
In the process, the Darul Uloom Haqqania has provided the who’s who of Taliban’s top leadership, including the ones who are striking a hard bargain with the Kabul government to end the protracted war that has gone on for about 20 years now. The budding jihadis, who are part of the seminary are not only proud of their alma maters but they also draw their inspiration to continue their religious fight against what they perceive as the enemies of Islam.
The sprawling campus of Darul Uloom Haqqania is nestled in Pakistan’s Akora Khattak, roughly about 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of Peshawar and is home to about 4,000 jihadis, who are provided free clothing, shelter and food. Indoctrination and radicalisation continue unabated in the seminary, with the attendees systematically brainwashed into waging war against the foreign troops.
Darul Uloom is an alma mater to several current and past Talibani leaders
The Haqqani network, the dreaded ultra-violent wing of the Talibani network derives its name from the Islamic seminary, where its leaders once taught and successive leaders studied. Some of the terrorists who later launched attacks against their own country have also been linked to the seminary. It is alleged that suicide bomber who assassinated former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto was the graduate of the Haqqania university.
A couple of years ago, terrorists assassinated the then custodian of Darul Uloom Haqqania, Maulana Samiul Haq. The 81-year-old hardcore religious preacher was stabbed to death in November 2018 while he was in his home. Haq had become the custodian of the seminary, one of the largest and oldest in Pakistan, in 1988 after the demise of his father Maulana Abdul Haq, who had founded the religious institute in 1947.
Samiul Haq had resolutely backed the Afghan mujahideen in the war against the Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s and later the Taliban when they launched attacks against the US-NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The influence that Haqqania university wielded on Pakistani Taliban was demonstrated most notably during 2014-2015 when the former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif requested Samiul Haq to use his heft on the terror outfit to reach a settlement for ending the conflict in the country. Interestingly, this was the time when the Pakistani Taliban had gone rogue and started orchestrating and executing attacks inside the country. The Peshawar army school attack in December 2014 was attributed to the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan).
Unlike Western Universities that feed talent to the corporate boardrooms and other multinational organisations, the Haqqania madrassa instead provided a steady stream of indoctrinated youth trained in combat training to the terror organisation involved in insurgent and terror activities. Many of the analysts expect that a large section of the Afghan graduates from the madrassa seamlessly transitions into accepting positions in the Taliban structures.
Darul Uloom Haqqania enjoys unfettered financial assistance from the Pakistani government
Though the nature of Haqqania’s activities has been writ large, it has predictably attracted state patronage by the sham Pakistani government, where political leaders put up an absurd pretence of a functional democracy but in reality act as mere puppets, whose strings are eventually in the hands of the military leaders. Haqqania has been at the receiving end of monetary aid to the tunes of millions of dollars from the Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan.
In 2018, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government in Pakistan approved a staggering Rs 277 million grant for Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary. This was not the only occasion when the contentious “university of jihad” had received a gracious grant from the Pakistani government. In 2016-2017, the seminary had received Rs 300 million aid. For decades now, the organisation has prominently featured as one of the top beneficiaries of the aid granted by the Pakistani government.
Ironically, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had in 2018 supported the financial assistance extended to the Islamic seminary known for grooming future terror leaders. Amusingly enough, Khan had claimed that the monetary aid would help the seminary students to assimilate in the Pakistani society, bring them into the mainstream and keep them away from radicalisation.
Many also believed that extending grants to radical seminaries such as Haqqania is not only a strategic decision but financially prudent as well, considering that Pakistan is a chronically poor and impoverished country and by extending financial assistance to madrassas, the Pakistani government farms out the work of educating the youth to these organisations while also extracting the benefits of raising an armed militia to carry out its stealth terror activities against its arch-enemies India and Afghanistan and even western nations.
Afghan leaders believe Pakistan’s continued assistance to Darul Uloom Haqqania University is proof of their support to the Taliban
Much like India, Afghanistan, too, has consistently attacked the Pakistani government for its persistent support to these radical organisations. Afghan leaders argue that Pakistan’s approval and financial support to the madrassas is a clinching proof of its support to the Taliban. They claim that by bankrolling such organisations, Pakistan continues to foment unrest in Afghanistan.
Most recently, the leaders of the seminary were seen supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan in a video posted online, drawing a sharp response from Kabul, which is already hard-pressed following the abrupt and hasty pullout announced by the United States. This has further cemented the Afghan view that Pakistan is in cahoots with the Talibani leaders.
Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesperson of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told AFP that seminaries like Haqqania are responsible for the birth of radical Islam, empowerment of the Taliban and the subsequent threat escalation against Afghanistan. This has been a common realisation among a broad range of Afghan political leaders across the political spectrum.