Maulana Sami-ul-Haq's death seals the end of an era
Maulana Sami-ul-Haq is the latest in the long list of religious leaders to die an unnatural death in Pakistan.
His assassination at his home in Rawalpindi on Friday shocked the religious circles in the country. The brutal manner in which he was stabbed to death has added a new twist to the case as police continue to look for clues in order to establish the motives of the unknown killers. Police officials said they were investigating the murder from different angles, including the possibility of personal enmity and involvement of foreign elements.
The 80-year-old religious scholar was buried on Saturday next to his father, Maulana Abdul Haq, inside the Darul Uloom Haqqania -- one of Pakistan’s biggest Islamic schools -- in the family’s native town of Akora Khattak -- in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwestern Pakistan. Maulana Abdul Haq, who served as a member of the country’s parliament, founded the seminary in 1947 at the time of Pakistan’s independence.
Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, on the other hand, wasn't a top politician, as his party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Sami (JUI-S), was a marginal player in the political sphere. He wasn’t among the top religious scholars in Pakistan either due to his close association with the Deobandi sect and his unconditional support for the Afghan Taliban. All of these reasons made him a divisive figure.
However, he drew importance from his seminary, the Darul Uloom Haqqania, which he headed as its custodian ever since his father’s death in 1988. The seminary was the alma mater of dozens of known leaders from both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban who added the word Haqqani to their names, with a lot of pride, to describe their association with the Darul Uloom Haqqania.
This was the reason Maulana Sami-ul-Haq was frequently approached by successive Afghan and Pakistan governments to facilitate peace talks and build contacts with the Taliban militants from the two countries.
Even though his mediation didn’t achieve anything tangible and his influence on the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban continued to diminish, he remained a point of contact for years in the absence of any other credible peacemaker.
The Maulana steadfastly backed the Afghan Taliban since the group’s emergence in 1994 when it challenged the ruling mujahideen factions in Afghanistan and later resisted the US-led Nato and Afghan forces. In line with the Taliban's demand, he called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces as the starting point of a workable peace process in Afghanistan.
Despite his hardline Islamic views, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq believed in democracy and contested elections in Pakistan, often as part of alliances of religio-political parties.
However, it would be an exaggeration to refer to him as the ‘Father of the Taliban’ because the Afghan Taliban never accepted or gave him the title. The same holds true for Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the rival Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) who is accorded the same reference.
Besides, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq’s seminary was just one of the thousands operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan that moulded the Taliban -- who ruled the country for six years before losing power in 2001. It certainly played a decisive role in educating the future Taliban fighters, but calling it the ‘nursery of Taliban’ or the ‘University of Jihad’ doesn't really convey the facts.
Despite his hardline Islamic views, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq believed in democracy and contested elections in Pakistan, often as part of alliances of religio-political parties. One such alliance, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), did well in the 2002 general elections, organized by military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, by exploiting the anti-US sentiment following the American invasion of Afghanistan which had toppled the Afghan Taliban'a regime.
The MMA went on to form the provincial government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. His party got a share in power and his son, Maulana Hamid-ul-Haq, was elected to the parliament. Maulana Sami-ul-Haq had been elected senator a few times, too.
The Maulana had always remained close to the powerful civil and military ‘establishment’ in Pakistan despite having differing views on Islamabad's close relations with the US in the past and following its decision --- in the post-Taliban period --- to break relations with the Afghan Taliban due to Washington’s pressure.
He risked his life to publicly support the government’s anti-polio vaccination campaign, which has been violently opposed by the Pakistani Taliban and other militants.
Prior to the July 2018 general elections, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq's JUI-S formed a pre-election alliance with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as the latter tried to counter the influence of Maulana Rehman's bigger JUI-F faction, but couldn’t sustain it.
Maulana Haq fought his last electoral battle for Pakistan’s lower house of parliament in March 2018 but was defeated because the PTI didn’t support his candidature.
In 2016, he had managed to obtain a grant of Rs300 million from the PTI-led provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for his seminary, with a promise to be allotted an additional installment of Rs275 million. At the time, PTI chairman Imran Khan had defended the move by arguing that the seminaries needed to be streamlined with Pakistan’s education sector.
In his last public speech, Maulana Haq had severely criticized the Supreme Court's verdict to acquit Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, demanding that the top court reverse its decision.
– Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst of Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama Bin Laden in 1998. Twitter: @rahimyusufzai1