AKORA KHATTAK, Pakistan – The Taliban have conquered Afghanistan and this school could not be prouder.
Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasa, one of Pakistan’s largest and oldest seminars, has trained more Taliban leaders than any school in the world. Now its alumni hold key positions in Afghanistan.
School critics call it a university of jihad and blame it for having helped sow violence across the region for decades. And they worry that extremist mattresses and the Islamist parties affiliated with them could be encouraged by the Taliban’s victory, which could potentially fuel further radicalism in Pakistan, despite the country’s efforts to bring more than 30,000 seminars under control. greater government control.
The school says it has changed and has argued that the Taliban should have the chance to show that they have moved beyond their bloody roads since they first ruled Afghanistan two decades ago.
“The world has seen their ability to govern the country through their victories on both the diplomatic front and on the battlefield,” said Rashidul Haq Sami, the seminar’s vice chancellor.
A softening of the Taliban is far from guaranteed due to a wave of violence earlier this year, reports of reprisals in the country, restrictions on girls going to school and interference with freedom of expression. But Mr Sami argued that the Taliban’s 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, has had an overall effect there. The seminar’s alumni founded the Taliban movement and ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. Pakistan’s powerful military often uses its leaders to influence the Taliban, experts say.
Its late chancellor, Samiul Haq, who was assassinated in his residence in Islamabad in 2018 and was Mr Sami’s father, was known as the “father of the Taliban”.
“As 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 led much of the Taliban’s military operation and carries a $ 5 million bounty from the US government on his head, is Afghanistan’s new acting interior minister and an alumnus. The same is true of Amir Khan Muttaqi, the new Foreign Minister, and Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Minister of Higher Education.
Afghanistan under Taliban rule
With the departure of the U.S. military on August 30, Afghanistan quickly fell back under Taliban control. There is widespread fear of the future across the country.
The Minister of Justice, the head of the Afghan Ministry of Water and Power and a number of governors, military commanders and judges also passed through the Haqqania seminar, school administrators say.
“We feel proud that our students in Afghanistan had first broken the Soviet Union and now sent the US package,” Sami said. “It is an honor for the madrasa that its candidates are now ministers and hold high positions in the Taliban government.”
Many of the alumni adopt the name Haqqani as a symbol of pride. The Haqqani network – the Taliban’s military wing, responsible for taking hostages by Americans, complex suicide attacks and targeted assassinations – is named after the madrasa and maintains connections there.
More than 4,000 students, mostly from poor families, attend the sprawling seminary, a collection of multi-story concrete buildings in a small town on the river just east of the town of Peshawar. The courses range from the teaching of the Qur’an to Arabic literature.
During a recent visit, a scholar gave a lecture on Islamic jurisprudence to a packed hall of 1,500 last year’s students. They erupt in giggles from an instructor’s jokes. Other students lined up outside for lunch and played volleyball or cricket.
Among them, the Taliban’s victory is a source of great pride.
“The Taliban have finally defeated the United States after fighting 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 former alumni to Afghanistan.”
Mr. Wali praised Haqqania as a first-class place to memorize the Qur’an, which some Muslims believe will get them and their families into heaven. “Haqqania is one of the few prestigious mattresses in the country where students are considering studying an honors degree because of its history, the prominent scholars who teach there and its high quality Islamic education,” he said.
Pakistan has long had a troubled relationship with madrasas like Haqqania. Leaders who once saw the seminars as a way 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 number of violent attacks in recent years. The two sides reached a ceasefire this month.
Renewed signs of radicalism in mattresses have emerged, especially after the fall of Kabul. Students have held pro-Taliban meetings. At the Red Mosque in Islamabad, the site of a deadly raid by security personnel 14 years ago, the Taliban flag was hoisted over a girl’s mattress next to it.
Meanwhile, the usefulness of the madrasas has declined as Pakistani officials have recently taken a more direct role in Afghanistan’s affairs, said Muhammad Israr Madani, an Islamabad-based researcher focusing on religious affairs.
Amid this pressure, the Government of Pakistan has sought a mix of financial support and behind the scenes encouragement to break down radicalism within the seminars.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government gave the Haqqania seminar $ 1.6 million in 2018 and $ 1.7 million in 2017 to “mainstream” it. The funds helped the mattress build a new building, a badminton court and a computer lab, among other projects.
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Haqqania has expanded its curriculum to include English, mathematics and computer science. It requires full documentation from foreign students, including those from Afghanistan, and administrators said it adopted a zero-tolerance policy for anti-state activities.
Education experts in Pakistan say the effort has been somewhat successful and that Haqqania is not in favor of militantism, as it once was.
Yet, they said, such mattresses teach a narrow interpretation of Islam. Lessons focus on how to argue with opposing faiths instead of critical thinking, and emphasize enforcement practices such as punishing theft with amputation and sex outside of marriage with stoning. This makes some of their students vulnerable to recruitment from militant groups.
“In an environment with widespread support for the Taliban, both by the government and society, it would be naive to hope that mattresses and other mainstream educational institutions would take a different educational approach than a pro-Taliban,” Abbas said. the author.
The school curriculum may have less influence than individual instructors.
“When a madrasa student is found involved in an act of violence, the broader approach is to hold the madrasa system and its curriculum accountable to the sick, and the teacher or teachers who have influenced the student are not taken into account,” Abbas said. .
Graduates who had studied at Haqqania in the 1980s and 1990s said they did not receive any military training. Some said, however, that teachers often discussed jihad openly and urged students to join the Afghan uprising. One, named Ali, said students could easily slip into Afghanistan to fight during seminar vacations. He requested that only his last name be used, citing security concerns.
Mr. Sami, the chancellor, said the students were neither trained for combat nor obliged to fight in Afghanistan.
School administrators point to recent statements by some groups in Afghanistan as reflective moderate teaching. After the Taliban conquered Kabul, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Sami Party, founded by Mr Sami’s father, urged them to ensure the security of Afghans and foreigners, especially diplomats, protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and give women access to higher education.
In any case, Mr Sami said, the world has little choice but to rely on the Taliban’s ability to govern.
“I urge the international community to give the Taliban a chance to govern 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.”