Pakistan Madrasa Taught Afghanistan’s Taliban Leaders

Akura Khattak, Pakistan – Afghanistan has been taken over by the Taliban, and this school couldn’t be prouder.

The Darul Uloom Haqqania School, one of the largest and oldest religious institutes in Pakistan, has educated more Taliban leaders than any school in the world. Now its graduates occupy key positions in Afghanistan.

Critics of the school describe it as a university of jihad and blame it for helping to sow violence across the region for decades. They worry that extremist madrassas and associated Islamic parties could be emboldened by a Taliban victory, potentially fueling further extremism in Pakistan despite that country’s efforts to bring more than 30,000 madrassas under greater government control.

The school says it has changed and says the Taliban should be given the opportunity to show that they have transcended their bloody ways since they first ruled Afghanistan two decades ago.

“The world has seen their capabilities in running the country through their victories on the diplomatic front and on the battlefield,” said Rashid Al-Haq Sami, vice president of the school.

Reducing the Taliban is by no means guaranteed, given the escalation of violence earlier this year, reports of revenge killings within the country, restrictions on girls from going to school, and a crackdown on freedom of expression. But Mr. Sami said the Taliban’s takeover of power could have been bloodier, noting that they “would not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s”.

Dar Al Uloom Haqqania, about 60 miles from the Afghan border, has made a huge impact there. Graduates of the institute founded the Taliban movement and ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. Experts say the powerful Pakistani military often uses its leaders to influence the Taliban.

Her late advisor, Samuel Haq, who was killed in his Islamabad residence in 2018 and was Mr. Sami’s father, was known as the “Father of the Taliban”.

“Being an umbrella group for dozens of Taliban leaders, Haqqania certainly respects them,” said Azmat Abbas, author of The Mirage School: A Contemporary History of Islamic Schools in Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, 41, who has led many of the Taliban’s military efforts and carried a $5 million bounty from the US government on his head, is Afghanistan’s acting interior minister and alumnus. So is Amir Khan Mottaki, the new foreign minister, and Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the minister of higher education.

School officials said the justice minister, the head of the Afghan Ministry of Water and Energy, and a variety of governors, military leaders and judges also passed through the Haqqania School.

“We feel proud that our students in Afghanistan first broke the Soviet Union and now sent US packages,” said Mr. Sami. “It is an honor for the school that its graduates are now ministers and hold high positions in the Taliban government.”

Many graduates adopt the Haqqani name as a symbol of pride. The Haqqani Network – the military wing of the Taliban, responsible for holding American hostages, complex suicide attacks and targeted assassinations – is named after the school and maintains links there.

More than 4,000 students, mostly from poor families, attend the sprawling school, a cluster of multi-storey concrete buildings in a small riverside town east of Peshawar. Courses range from Quran memorization to Arabic literature.

On a recent visit, a scholar gave a lecture on Islamic jurisprudence in a crowded hall of 1,500 final-year students. They burst out laughing at one of the teachers’ jokes. Other students lined up outside for lunch and played volleyball or cricket.

Among them, the victory of the Taliban is a source of great pride.

“The Taliban have finally defeated the United States after their struggle for nearly 20 years, and the whole world accepts this fact,” said Abdul Wali, a 21-year-old student. “It also shows the foresight and commitment of our teachers and past alumni on Afghanistan.”

Mr. Wali praised Haqqania as a major place for memorizing the Qur’an, which some Muslims believe will lead them and their families to heaven. “Haqqania is one of the few prestigious religious schools in the country where students consider studying an honor due to its history, its eminent scholars who study there and the quality of its Islamic education,” he said.

Pakistan has always had a turbulent relationship with madrassas such as the Haqqania. Leaders who once viewed the seminars as a way to influence events in Afghanistan now see them as a source of conflict within Pakistan. The country has its own Taliban movement, the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, which has been responsible for a large number of violent attacks in recent years. The two sides reached a ceasefire this month.

There have been renewed signs of extremism in schools, especially since the fall of Kabul. Students organized pro-Taliban rallies. At the Red Mosque in Islamabad, the site of a deadly raid by security personnel 14 years ago, Taliban flags are raised over the nearby girls’ school.

Meanwhile, the usefulness of madrassas has declined as Pakistani officials recently played a more direct role in Afghanistan’s affairs, said Muhammad Israr Madani, an Islamabad-based scholar who focuses on religious affairs.

Amid these pressures, the Pakistani government has experimented with a combination of financial support and behind-the-scenes prodding to mitigate extremism within the seminaries.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government awarded Haqqaniyah School $1.6 million in 2018 and $1.7 million in 2017 for “mainstreaming it”. The money helped the school build a new building, a badminton court, and a computer lab, among other projects.

Haqqania has expanded its curriculum to include English, mathematics and computer science. It requires full documentation from foreign students, including Afghan students, and officials said it has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for anti-state activities.

Education experts in Pakistan say the effort has had some success and that Haqqania is not as hard-line as it did before.

However, they said, such schools teach a narrow interpretation of Islam. Lessons focus on how to argue with opposing religions rather than critical thinking, and stress the application of practices such as the punishment of theft by amputation and extramarital sex by stoning. This makes some of their students vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

“In an environment of widespread support for the Taliban, whether with the government or society, it would be naive to hope that religious schools and other major educational institutions would adopt an educational approach other than the pro-Taliban one,” said Mr. Abbas, the author.

The school curriculum may have less impact than individual teachers.

“When a student in the school is found to be involved in an act of violence, the broader approach is to make the school system and curriculum accountable for the disease and the teacher or teachers who have affected the student are not taken into account,” said Mr. Abbas. .

Graduates who studied in Haqqania in the 1980s and 1990s said they did not receive any military training. However, some said teachers often discussed jihad openly and encouraged students to join the insurgency in Afghanistan. One of them, named Ali, said that students could easily sneak into Afghanistan to fight during the school holidays. He requested that only his last name be used, citing security concerns.

Mr. Sami, the vice chancellor, said the students were neither trained to fight nor forced to fight in Afghanistan.

School principals refer to recent statements by some groups in Afghanistan as moderate teachings. After the Taliban captured Kabul, the Jamaat Ulama Islam-Sami party, which was founded by Mr. Sami’s father, urged to ensure the safety of Afghans and foreigners, especially diplomats, protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and allow women access. for higher education.

In any case, Mr. Sami said, the world has no choice but to trust the Taliban’s ability to govern.

“I advise the international community to give the Taliban a chance to run the country,” he said. “If they are not allowed to operate, a new civil war will erupt in Afghanistan and will affect the entire region.”

Leave a Comment