With the Afghan peace process about to begin in Qatar and the Taliban gearing up to put their demands on the table for a peaceful settlement, a towering figure of the Afghan war, whose relevance was unquestionable amid the bloody conflict, Maulana Samiul Haq, was murdered.
“Maulana Samiul Haq’s loss is not just a personal one but one of the greatest influences on the political ethos of our time is also gone,” said Yousaf Shah, the Maulana’s spokesperson and his longtime companion.
They called him the ‘Father of the Taliban’ and he took much pride in this title.
Why do they call you that, I had asked Maulana Samiul Haq when I met him at the Darul Uloom Haqqania on a cold February morning in 2014.
“Every movement has a spiritual guide they look up to,” he said with a smile. He was wrapped in his long brown coat. “I have their trust.” Back then he was involved in spearheading the peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
But that dream was short lived. Three months later when we met again, his smile had gone. “People from both sides will continue to die if this ‘misunderstanding’ does not end,” he said.
Born ten years before Partition, the Maulana was conscious of his surroundings and was acutely aware of his religio-political stature. Despite the fact that he had gone through a surgery, with three stents in the heart, “he was adamant that he wanted to join the protests,” his nephew told me when the Aasia Bibi verdict reaction surfaced this week. Earlier this year he had wanted to join the upper house of Parliament for the third time from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but his name was not included on the final list of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf for the Senate. This happened despite the announcement of an electoral alliance, but that did not put him off in any way.
Maulana Samiul Haq’s career revolved around the Darul Uloom Haqqania, a seminary of the Deobandi school of thought and alma mater to some of the most prominent of the Taliban, including their leader Mullah Muhammad Omer, and the much-talked about Haqqani network whose name derives from this very seminary.
It is located on the main Jahangira Road in Nowshera and you cannot miss it with its high-rise domes and expansive verandas of white marble, tainted by the dust in the air. Its foundation was laid in 1947 by Maulana Abdul Haq, Samiul Haq took over as the Mutamim (director) of the madrassa after the death of his father in 1988. The madrassa rose to prominence in the 1990s when the Taliban gained momentum in Afghanistan.
In January 2001, the seminary became the talk of the town when masked gunmen dressed in guerrilla gear vowed to launch a holy war against the west. Its 40 hectares recently made it to the headlines when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government decided to give Rs277 million for its uplift.
It was because of the Maulana’s influence with the Taliban that delegations twice led by the Afghan Ambassador himself asked him to play a role in initiating the peace process. There were at least five known meetings between him and Afghan delegates with the most recent being held last month. He had suggested that the religious leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan meet without the inference of the United States. Suggesting that the peace process should be locally initiated, he had stressed that there should be a clear timeline on the withdrawal of Nato troops. While many considered the Maulana’s influence had waned with time, his stature was best known by the people who came to seek his advice.
The JUI-S, a faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam which he led, might not have been as visible as other religio-political parties, but it was Samiul Haq’s status that upheld the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal when it rose to power in 2002. It is widely believed that one main reason that the MMA could not consolidate itself this time round for the elections was that Maulana Sami was not part of the alliance because of his bitter experience with the Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led JUI-F. Maulana Sami also headed the Difa-e-Pakistan Council consisting of 40 religious groups and right-wing political parties. And although they are not considered to be heavy-weights in the political arena, their influence on society at large cannot be overlooked.
“He came forward to help us eradicate polio and protect anti-polio workers at a time when attacks were at an all-time high,” said Babar bin Atta, the PM’s advisor on polio eradication. Indeed, Maulana Sami’s support made a difference when he joined the campaign in 2008 by issuing a decree is it favour.
While thousands gathered for the Maulana’s funeral in Akora Khattak, the question on everyone’s minds was who would take the Maulana’s legacy forward.
“The Maulana was stabbed 16 times,” said a seminary student who came to attend the funeral from North Waziristan. “We will make sure that we multiply his cause 16 million times.”