Last month, a powerful cleric of Pakistan, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, was stabbed to death in his house in Rawalpindi. In his eighties, the old man was resting alone in his bedroom while his attendant was out of the house for barely 15 minutes. There was speculation that the killer (or killers) could be someone on intimate terms with the maulana and was paid by someone across the Durand Line to kill him. Haq’s son Hamidullah too thought the killers were sent from Afghanistan.
Haq was a powerful man on many counts. His seminary Madrassa Haqqania near Peshawar is spread over eight acres, enrolling more than 2,800 students. It educates the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line, in particular, the backbone of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani clan, which took its name from the madrassa. Haq was the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and had split from the bigger JUI where he couldn’t get along with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who kept away from the Taliban as it played into the hands of al Qaeda.
When the infamous al Qaeda den in Islamabad, the Red Mosque, was attacked by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007, Rehman lost his footing among the Taliban-al Qaeda combine by favouring the attack while Haq gained in stature by opposing it. Later, Rehman was physically attacked by the Taliban.
If you wanted to be safe in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa you had to be on good terms with Haq. Imran Khan’s party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, shelled out to him a generous grant of Rs300 million. Zahid Hussain, writing in Dawn in 2017, stated that Benazir Bhutto — who ignored Haq — had to pay the price with her life: The suicide bombers who killed her had stayed at Madrassa Haqqania and the “assassination plot was reportedly hatched at this institution”. Haq became a senator and gained access to the establishment, placing himself at the head of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council meant to put the fear of God in the hearts of any government going soft on India.
In his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid quotes Haq at length and explains his crucial role in providing leaders and fighters for the Taliban. In 1999, by Rashid’s count, “at least eight Taliban cabinet ministers in Kabul were graduates of Haq’s madrassa and dozens of other graduates served as Taliban governors in the provinces, military commanders, judges and bureaucrats”.
Haq’s party was included in the six-party government that ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in 2002. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance helplessly rolled with the punch of Islamic law and soon made itself unpopular. The Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda tried to help but the common man didn’t like the bearded clerics banning music and closing down cinema-halls.
The MMA alliance got together with the ruling PMLQ of Chaudhry Shujaat of Gujrat to sign an amendment to the Constitution to get rid of the two mainstream parties of Pakistan — PPP and PMLN — by barring their leaders from becoming prime ministers again. The MMA became a part of the “mullah-military alliance” by letting Musharraf rule as president-cum-army chief till 2004. The general, thereafter ruled till 2007 and the Supreme Court let him do it through a pro-forma approval. General Kayani who succeeded Musharraf realised how Pakistan had gone wrong by taking the MMA governments on board and was forced to change track.
In a speech in Abbottabad in August 2012, General Kayani said: “The war against extremism is our own war and a just war too. Any misgivings in this regard can divide us internally, leading to a civil war situation”. The worldview emanating from the clerics gathered under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan Council and the MMA, which ruled in two provinces while hand-in-glove with the Taliban and al Qaeda, was the source of the extremism but there was nothing that could be done. The Taliban formally came into being after General Musharraf attacked the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007. Al Qaeda angrily announced its formation. An alarmed General Kayani allowed an Indo-Pak thaw as antidote but, alas, found India no longer interested.