Maulana Sami ul-Haq is the director and chancellor of Pakistan's famous madrassa, Darul uloom Haqqania, Akora Khattak. He has served in this post since the death of his father, Maulana Abdul ul-Haq, the founder of the madrassa, in 1988. Darul uloom Haqqania is where many of the top Taliban leaders, including its fugitive chief, Mullah Omar, attended. It is widely believed that the madrassa was the launching pad for the Taliban movement in the early 1990s, which is why Sami ul-Haq is also called the "Father of the Taliban." Besides running his madrassa, Maulana Sami has a long political history as a religious politician. He was among the founders of Pakistan's Muttahida Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition of six Islamic religious parties. He recently spoke with Jamestown analyst Imtiaz Ali.
Imtiaz Ali: During the Russian invasion, the students from your madrassa were traveling to Afghanistan to fight, after which most of them were eventually inducted as governors and administrators in the Taliban government. Is the same thing continuing today? Are you still sending people to Afghanistan for jihad?
Maulana Sami ul-Haq: No, there were not only Taliban who took part in jihad. This is an incorrect assumption, which needs correction. After the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, people from all walks of life went to Afghanistan for jihad. Students from colleges and universities went more than madrassa students.
IA: But it is an undeniable fact that students who graduated from your madrassa played a significant role in the establishment of the Taliban regime.
SH: Well, the Taliban were busy in their studies when the factional wars in Afghanistan reached their climax. Naturally, when the leaders could not make it, the students had to come to the rescue of the war-torn country. Thus, the Taliban rushed back to rescue their country from the factional fighting. Similarly, when America attacked Afghanistan in late 2001, the same event happened—it is understandable that when infidels attack a Muslim country, then it is the duty of every Muslim to defend it. Maulana Sufi Muhammad of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat- e-Mohammadi (TNSM) also took thousands of people for jihad, which was a commendable action. The U.S. attack on Afghanistan was a clear act of aggression and terrorism. But when someone rises up against U.S. aggression, then he is called a terrorist. It is a strange and illogical philosophy.
IA: There were reports that the Taliban leadership had called for fresh reinforcements in connection with its spring offensive in Afghanistan. Is this true?
SH: These are just baseless reports. Had they called upon the madrassa students, they would have called us for the reinforcements or at least we would know. The Taliban are not that organized. They are living in caves. They lack proper communication and logistics systems, and that is why they do not want new recruits. The Afghans themselves have risen up and they are fighting against American and NATO forces.
IA: If they would ask you for help, what would be your reaction?
SH: They would never ask us. We ourselves have not sent students before nor will we send them now. It is not our madrassa policy to do so.
IA: What would you call the situation in Afghanistan? Is that jihad?
SH: When the red forces of the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, it was a war of independence and we all agreed that it was jihad. Even the United States had said that the Russians must be ousted from Afghanistan. When Russia left, the United States committed the same aggression. So, the situation is the same. One infidel force replaced another. No difference at all. Whether it is Russia or America, it is a jihad.
IA: Some analysts call it a Pashtun uprising. What do you think?
SH: It is neither a Pashtun uprising or a Persian one, or a Sunni uprising or a Shiite. In fact, the Afghan nation has risen up against the invaders—the United States and its allies. It is a war of independence. After the fall of the Taliban regime, the Afghan people remained quiescent for two years to see if any positive change would come into their lives. But they did not see anything that was promised to them at the time of the collapsing Taliban regime and that is why they started this revolt against the occupied forces. It is now a war of independence for all Afghans. They want to get rid of the U.S.-led occupation forces. Terming it only a Pashtun uprising is a completely incorrect assumption.
IA: Do you not consider the Karzai-led government in Afghanistan a Muslim government?
SH: We have nothing to do with the Islam of Karzai. It is not our business to issue a decree about him being Muslim or non-Muslim. We just want an end to the suffering of the Afghan people. We ask the current Afghan rulers to start negotiations with the Taliban and other jihadi forces to pave the way for a durable peace in the war-torn country.
IA: It does not matter to you, then, if there is a Karzai-led government or the Taliban, just as long as it is an Afghan government?
SH: We say that there should be no foreign interference in Afghanistan, and the Afghans themselves should come up with a solution. All the factions—the leaders, the Taliban, the jihadi forces—should come forward and work together for peace. They should decide their fate in the absence of foreign interference. But I firmly believe that there is no chance for peace and stability in Afghanistan until the presence of foreign troops is removed.
IA: What are your thoughts on the flow of fighters between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the Durand Line?
SH: Like I said earlier, it is an Afghan uprising against foreign invaders and it has nothing to do with cross-border terrorism and the flow of fighters from Pakistan.
IA: Why, then, has the government decided to fence and plant mines on the Pakistani side of the border? Do you approve of that?
SH: I oppose this plan because the Pashtun nation on both sides of the border shares cultural, racial and religious values. Their lives are intertwined. They are all Muslims. They are one nation. Fencing the border will not solve the problem. The main reason behind the tension on the Pakistan-Afghan border is the presence of U.S.-led foreign troops in Afghanistan. The day they leave Afghanistan, there will be no tension at all.
IA: With the ban on foreign students' admission in the religious seminaries in 2003 by the government, has enrollment of the students changed in your madrassa?
SH: That ban is a total violation of our fundamental rights. People from here go to the United States and the United Kingdom for studies. Similarly, students from other countries come to Pakistan for education. That was a kind of service we were providing to the Muslim students from other countries. But this ban is an unconstitutional, inhumane and unlawful act. The government has taken this step only to appease the United States and its other Western masters. It is a shame for us because India is a secular country, but has been issuing visas to students from all Muslim countries who want to come to India for education.
IA: But there have been accusations that terrorists are being trained here in the madrassas.
SH: This is nothing more than an example of the perpetual propaganda against the madrassa system. This is what we have been hearing, but so far no one has produced any solid evidence.
IA: The mystery has always been shrouded by the lack of an audit of the money being received by madrassas, correct?
SH: We are not bound by the government to audit our funding system because they do not give us any money. First, let them give us funds for running our madrassas and then we will let them have their audit. Why are they taking pains when they are not giving us a penny? Only those who give us financial support have the right to audit our funds. We have our system of donations and we do not accept any donations from the government. I also want to make it clear that we keep a record of all our donations and funding. The funding is being registered and we prepare annual reports and then those reports are printed along with the names of the donors.
IA: Who gives you the donations for running this big madrassa?
SH: Common Muslims. And the majority of the funding comes from the poorer classes of society. They know that madrassas are the forts of Islam and the students in madrassas are the real guardians of Islam. God's religion is flourishing in the madrassas. These people cut their meager domestic budget and give us donations. This is how they express their love of Allah almighty and save the integrity of these madrassas.
IA: Is Musharraf validated in meddling with religious issues considering he is supposed to be the leader of a secular government?
SH: He has been doing all this just to appease the United States and his other Western masters.
IA: To what extent could a nuclear Iran pose a potential threat to the strength of Pakistan?
SH: Iran is not a threat to Pakistan at all. Iran is giving the United States a tough time in the region and seems quite determined to acquire nuclear power status. Muslims all over the world are happy about this move because there should be someone who has the courage to demonstrate the religious strength to look into the eyes of the United States. We support Iran. Besides, we would not allow the Pakistani leadership to toe the U.S. line in dealing with Iran, as they have done in the case of Afghanistan.
IA: There has been speculation that Iran has ambitions for a "Shiite Crescent" in the Middle East. What is your opinion of this?
SH: This is U.S. propaganda aimed at dividing the strength of Muslims. The Shiite-Sunni issue has been created by the United States just to hide its failure in Iraq and to achieve its goals in the Middle East. Besides, the United States is also creating poisonous propaganda against Iran for intervening in Iraq's affairs just to malign its position in the world community. It is baseless. I was in Iran two months ago where I held meetings with the top Iranian leadership. I urged them to counter U.S. propaganda and try to satisfy Kurds, Arabs and Sunnis. I clearly told them that if you [Iran] need the support of the whole Muslim ummah, then you have to garner support against the United States, not only from Shiites but also from Sunnis.
IA: What do you think of Lashkar-e-Jangvi, TNSM and other jihadi outfits in Pakistan?
SH: Lashkar-e-Jangvi and similar organizations are the continuity of the Kashmir problem. These jihadi forces were patronized by the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, with full state support for their activities in Kashmir. But when Pakistan came under immense pressure, then this whole drama was wrapped up and that is why a ban was put on these jihadi organizations. It is all a dictated policy from the West.
IA: What do you think about the latest spate of suicide bombings in Pakistan?
SH: This is not a surprise. This new suicide phenomenon in Pakistan is the direct outcome of the government's policies, particularly the unjust military operations in the tribal belt along the Afghan border. Today, Pakistani forces are at the highest level of danger and risk due to the flawed policies of General Musharraf in the name of fighting the so-called war on terror. This is what I had forewarned about in the past, that if the government did not stop these unjust military operations, then attacks on military posts and violence would not be confined to the tribal areas, but will spread to the rest of the country. Today, you see that this is happening.
IA: Do you think that suicide attacks are fair?
SH: The bombers would not ask us to confirm whether it is fair or unfair. It is better you ask this question to the suicide bombers, whose family members have been killed and houses have been bombed. They themselves decided what they had to do. They would not ask any mullah. But they do think that they will go straight to paradise.
IA: Who do you think these bombers are?
SH: They are young and emotional Muslims. When they see that their leaders have surrendered to the United States and its allies, then they do not see any other way out except for the option of suicide bombing. Among them are students of modern universities who see how the Western powers are destroying Muslims around the world. Suicide bombing is an international phenomenon now. These young people do not receive any suicide training or motivation in a madrassa or a mosque. They watch it on their TVs—the dead bodies of Muslim brothers. They see that Muslims are being killed in various part of the world. When they see these atrocities, they go their own way. If the international community wants to put an end to this kind of activity, it is high time for them to ponder solutions to issues like Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir.
IA: Besides your madrassa role, how do you see your role as a politician in the political field?
SH: My role is very clear as a madrassa teacher as it is as a politician. I want a true Islamic system in Pakistan. That is my simple goal. The current Pakistani system of governance was introduced by the British Raj, which means we are still enslaved by that colonial legacy. Our economy, education and judicial system stem from the same exploitative British rule. I want to introduce real Sharia, which was implemented by the four caliphs of Islam.
IA: Will you support Musharraf in the upcoming presidential elections?
SH: We have not yet decided about the upcoming elections. But I think they will be a fraud and a futile exercise in the name of democracy. Elections are part of democracy, but here they have become a fraud. In my 37-year career as a politician, I have seen a particular group of politicians from a particular group of families ruling this country. They have made their own dynasties. Since the creation of Pakistan, they have just been replacing one another, with no big change in policies. I am in favor of a bloodless revolution, which would completely overhaul the existing system. I just wonder, how can a democracy flourish in the shadow of a military uniform? The present one is a shame of a democracy.
IA: Do you think that with his support for the war on terror, Musharraf's popularity has increased or decreased at home?
SH: Absolutely decreased. First, look at the declining popularity of President Bush in his own country. So, how can Musharraf be popular for his role in the so-called war on terror? The reports about his increasing popularity are just rubbish.
IA: Will Musharraf be able to maintain control over Pakistan?
SH: Well, people are not happy with what he is doing here in Pakistan. The overwhelming majority of the masses are opposing his policies, particularly the much talked about "enlightened moderation." After bringing changes to the Hudood laws, now his government might soon amend the blasphemy laws. But he does not understand that the Pakistani people will sacrifice their lives on the issue of blasphemy. All these actions demonstrate his unpopularity among the masses.
IA: Is an Islamic revolution a possibility in Pakistan's future?
SH: Anything is possible. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that the motive behind the creation of Pakistan was the establishment of an Islamic state for the Muslims of India. Establishment of Sharia is the logical conclusion of Pakistan's creation.
IA: How do see yourself and your role in the next 10 years, and how can you contribute to the peaceful revolution you mentioned earlier?
SH: I'll see how events unfold in the future. However, I'm optimistic that after 10 years, the whole Muslim ummah will have awakened from its deep slumber; Pakistan is no exception. I think that the vast majority of Pakistanis will not tolerate what is going on here as silent spectators. Here is also a lesson for the United States: to learn from what happened to the former superpower the USSR. It should address the problems of the world in a positive way and address the sense of deprivation being created in the people of this region and especially in the Muslim ummah. Things have drastically changed. With the way they [the United States and its Western allies] inflict cruelties and damages on the Muslim ummah, there will be a strong response. Now, the Muslims have awakened. It is time for the United States to act responsibly. Otherwise, there will be tit-for-tat attacks.
IA: Do you think that the suicide bombing phenomenon is a kind of awakening?
SH: Look, if you kick a sleeping man, he will not only wake but will also resist. So, yes, suicide bombing is an awakening. Tell me, where did the concept of suicide bombing in Pakistan come? We had not heard about any suicide bombings in the more than two decades of the Afghan conflict. But this is a new and unbeatable discovery which some Muslim youth have found as an answer to the cruelties and damages being inflicted on the Muslim ummah.
IA: Can Western governments have a healthy relationship with Pakistan through foreign aid or development work?
SH: The first step is sovereignty and respect, and only then can foreign aid work. Until the United States and the West respect the sovereignty of Muslim countries and stop their aggression and atrocities, nothing will work.