AKORA KHATTAK, Pakistan – The Taliban have taken over Afghanistan and this school could not be more proud.
The Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasa, one of Pakistan’s largest and oldest seminaries, has trained more Taliban leaders than any school in the world. Today, its alumni hold key positions in Afghanistan.
Critics of the school call it a jihad university and blame it for helping to sow violence in the region for decades. And they fear that extremist madrasas and associated Islamist parties will be encouraged by the Taliban victory, potentially further fueling radicalism in Pakistan despite the country’s efforts to place more than 30,000 seminaries under increased government control.
The school says that has changed and argued that the Taliban should be given the opportunity to show that they have gone beyond their bloody ways since they ruled Afghanistan two decades ago.
“The world has seen their abilities to lead the country through their victories both on the diplomatic front and on the battlefield,” said Rashidul Haq Sami, vice-chancellor of the seminary.
A relaxation of the Taliban is far from assured, given the upsurge in violence at the start of the year, reports of retaliatory killings inside the country, limits imposed on girls’ education and repression of freedom of expression. But Mr. Sami argued that the Taliban takeover could have been even bloodier, signaling that they “would not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s.”
Darul Uloom Haqqania, about 60 miles from the Afghan border, had a disproportionate effect there. Alumni of the seminary founded the Taliban movement and ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. The powerful Pakistani army often uses its leaders to influence the Taliban, experts say.
His late chancellor, Samiul Haq, who was assassinated at his residence in Islamabad in 2018 and was the father of Mr. Sami, was known as the “father of the Taliban”.
“Being the alma mater of dozens of Taliban leaders, Haqqania certainly commands their respect,” said Azmat Abbas, author of “Madrasa Mirage: A Contemporary History of Islamic Schools in Pakistan”.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, 41, who has led much of the Taliban’s military efforts and wears a $ 5 million US government bounty on his head, is Afghanistan’s new acting interior minister and a former student. The same goes for Amir Khan Muttaqi, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Abdul Bqi Haqqani, the Minister of Higher Education.
Afghanistan under the Taliban
With the departure of the US military on August 30, Afghanistan quickly fell back under Taliban control. Across the country, concern for the future is widespread.
The Minister of Justice, the head of the Afghan Ministry of Water and Energy and various governors, military commanders and judges also passed through the Haqqania seminar, according to school administrators.
“We are proud that our students in Afghanistan first broke the Soviet Union and now sent the United States to pack their bags,” Sami said. “It is an honor for the madrasa that its graduates are now ministers and hold high positions in the Taliban government.
Many former students adopt the name Haqqani as a symbol of pride. The Haqqani Network – the military wing of the Taliban responsible for the hostage-taking of Americans, complex suicide bombings and targeted assassinations – bears the name of the madrasa and maintains ties to it.
Over 4,000 students, mostly from poor families, attend the Sprawling Seminary, a multi-story concrete building complex in a small riverside town just east of the town of Peshawar. Classes range from memorizing the Koran to Arabic literature.
During a recent visit, an academic gave a lecture on Islamic jurisprudence to a packed hall of 1,500 final year students. They burst out laughing at the jokes of an instructor. 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 finally defeated the United States after struggling for almost 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 alumni about Afghanistan. “
Mr. Wali hailed Haqqania as a great place to memorize the Quran, which some Muslims say will bring them and their families to Heaven. “Haqqania is one of the few prestigious madrasas in the country where students consider studying an honor because of its history, the eminent academics who teach there and its quality Islamic education,” he said.
Pakistan has long had difficult relations with madrasas like Haqqania. Leaders who once saw seminars as a means of influencing events in Afghanistan now see them as a source of conflict in Pakistan. The country has its own Taliban movement, the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, which has been responsible for a series of violent attacks in recent years. The two sides reached a ceasefire this month.
New signs of radicalism have appeared in madrasas, especially since the fall of Kabul. The students organized pro-Taliban rallies. At Islamabad’s Red Mosque, the site of a deadly raid carried out by security personnel 14 years ago, Taliban flags were hoisted above a nearby girls’ madrasa.
Meanwhile, the usefulness of madrasas has diminished as Pakistani officials have recently taken a more direct role in Afghan affairs, said Muhammad Israr Madani, an Islamabad-based researcher specializing in religious affairs.
Amid these pressures, the Pakistani government has tried a mix of financial support and behind-the-scenes incentives to curb radicalism within the seminaries.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government gave the Haqqania Seminar $ 1.6 million in 2018 and $ 1.7 million in 2017 for its “integration”. The funds helped the madrasa to construct a new building, a badminton court and a computer lab, among other projects.
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as leaders.
Haqqania has expanded its curriculum to include English, Mathematics, and Computer Science. It demands full documentation from foreign students, including those from Afghanistan, and administrators have said they have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for anti-state activity.
Education experts in Pakistan say the effort has had some success and Haqqania no longer advocates activism as it once did.
Yet, they said, these madrasas teach a narrow interpretation of Islam. Lessons focus on how to argue with opposing faiths rather than critical thinking, and emphasize the application of practices such as punishing theft by amputation and extramarital sex by stoning. . This makes some of their students vulnerable to recruitment by militant groups.
“In an environment of widespread support for the Taliban, both in government and in society, it would be naïve to hope that madrassas and other traditional educational institutions would take an educational approach other than pro-Taliban,” Mr. Abbas, the author.
The school curriculum may have less influence than individual instructors.
“Whenever a madrasa student is discovered committing an act of violence, the broader approach is to hold the madrasa system and its program accountable to the sick and no attention is paid to the teacher or to the teachers who influenced the student, ”Abbas said. .
Graduates who studied at Haqqania in the 1980s and 1990s said they received no military training. Some, however, said teachers often openly discuss jihad and encourage students to join the Afghan insurgency. One, named Ali, said the students could easily slip into Afghanistan to fight during the seminary vacation. He requested that only his last name be used, citing security concerns.
Mr. Sami, the vice-chancellor, said the students were neither trained for combat nor required to fight in Afghanistan.
School administrators point to recent statements by some groups in Afghanistan as moderate, reflective lessons. After the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Sami party, founded by Mr. Sami’s father, urged them to ensure the safety of Afghans and foreigners, especially diplomats, to protect rights of religious and ethnic minorities and to allow women’s access to higher education.
Either way, Sami said, the world has little choice but to trust the Taliban’s ability to rule.
“I advise the international community to give the Taliban a chance to rule the country,” he said. “If they are not allowed to work, there will be a new civil war in Afghanistan and it will affect the whole region. “