Mualana Samiul Haq courted controversy and exhibited contradictions in equal measure. He was known as the ‘Father of the Taliban’ and his seminary, Darul Uloom Haqqania, in Akora Khattak has been the alma mater of many mujahideens, including Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sirajuddin Haqqani of the famous Haqqani network. Haq also championed democracy and opposed taking arms against the state — at least in Pakistan.
Now that he is murdered, the answer to who the real Haq was remains as unclear as ever. His murder itself has turned into a mystery. He was reportedly stabbed multiple times at his Rawalpindi residence early last month and was found dead in a pool of blood by his driver. The police have made no headway in the case and his son has refused to allow the exhuming of his body for a postmortem. To add to the intrigue, Haq’s secretary and trusted aide, Syed Ahmed Shah, went missing a few days later. His family claimed he was picked up by law enforcement agencies from his residence in Akora Khattak.
Just two days before his murder, Haq addressed a protest rally in Nowshera condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case. On the day he was killed, he was supposed to attend another protest rally but was unable to make it due to road blockades. But, despite his hardliner views on Islam, jihad and blasphemy, Haq has seldom spoken out against the Pakistani state — and, as a result, has seldom found himself out of favour with the Pakistani state.
In fact, Haq has always been a part of one pro-establishment entity or another. He was a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora during Ziaul Haq’s regime and was later elected to the Senate twice, once on a ticket of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad — an alliance of right-wing political parties favoured by the powers that be. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, many students from Darul Uloom Haqqania went to fight the Afghan state and subsequently participated in creating the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996. When in 2001, America went after the Taliban regime, Haq came up with the Afghan Defence Council. It is unclear if this was meant to actually support the Afghan Taliban or just to pressure America into giving a better deal to Pervez Musharraf’s regime in exchange for Pakistan becoming an American ally. The council later morphed into the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious political parties that formed the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2002.
While the MMA was an alliance focused on war and strife in Afghanistan, the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), or the Defence of Pakistan Council, another religious alliance led by Haq, focused its energy mostly on Kashmir and India. Along with its demand to block supplies going to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces in Afghanistan, the DPC – comprising avatars of many banned militant outfits including Jamaat-ud-Dawa – aimed to highlight the Indian atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir. Haq was also a senior leader of the Milli Yakjehti Council, purportedly formed to promote religious and sectarian harmony. It, ironically, includes some militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed as well.
These alliances and his influential madrasa cemented Haq’s place as an important player in religious politics. Many, however, say his influence over various jihadi outfits was blown out of proportions. He never succeeded in convincing the Afghan Taliban to join negotiations for peace in Afghanistan. When in 2013-14 Nawaz Sharif’s government reached out to the Pakistani Taliban, Haq was a part of the government’s negotiating team but was unsuccessful in making the militants lay down their arms.
His seminary has been particularly controversial. When one of its teachers was killed in May 2012, both pro- and anti-government militants threatened to attack security personnel who they saw as his murderers. In 2015, an anti-terrorism court was told that students of Darul Uloom Haqqania were involved in the murder of Benazir Bhutto, an allegation the madrasa denied vehemently. All this explains why Imran Khan faced a strong backlash when he pledged hundreds of millions of rupees for the seminary two years ago.
Any way one looks at it, Haq and Darul Uloom Haqqania cannot be completely absolved of their role in shaping the minds of many young men who went on to take up arms either against the Pakistani state or the state in Afghanistan during the Soviet and American invasions. He may not have propagated militancy but history will remember him as someone who also did not whole-heartedly oppose it either.
This article was published in the Herald's December 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.