February 1999 News

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In 'Sammy Sandwich' Country, They Get Ready for Islamic Revolution

Express visits training school for Taliban, headed by Maulana Sami-ul Haq who disappeared from Centrestage after sex scandals.

7th February 1999
The Indian Express
By: Kamal Siddiqi

AKORA KHATTAK: Located at Akora Khattak on the main Grand Trunk (GT) road between Rawalpindi and Peshawar, the Jama Darul Uloom Haqqania is regional centre of religious instruction and has been a source of both inspiration and muscle for the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The institution has been the ideological training ground for several hundred Afghan Talibs (students), who have gone on to join the ranks of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan. The Afghan border lies a five-hour drive via Peshawar, the capital of the Frontier province and an important way station for Afghanistan.

The institution, which comprises primary and secondary schools and a seminary where hundreds of students study and live, is headed by Maulana Sami-ul Haq, a former senator and religious figure in his own right. In a hall, the Maulana holds court, he is busy lamenting with some of his subordinates over why his institution has to pay electricity charges when it is working in the cause of Islam. "In a Muslim country like Pakistan, our institutions should be exempt," he says to no one in particular.

Sami-ul Haq has gradually withdrawn from public life and engrossed himself more in his work at the madarssas and towards what he calls, the "glorious spread of Islam."

The bearded Sami-ul Haq, nearing 70, has been a bitter critic of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ever since the two parted ways in the early 90s. This parting resulted in the now infamous media cell of Sharif PMDN party publicising the interviews of a certain Madam Tahira, who is supposed to have kept a house of pleasure in Islamabad and whose clients included the rich and famous. In her interviews, Madam Tahira talked about Maulana Sami-ul Haq and certain "positions" he favoured. The media lapped it up and had a ball. Even today some papers refer to Sami-ul Haq as "Sammy Sandwich" in reference to those interviews.

While Sharif managed to get Sami-ul Haq off centre stage politics in Pakistan, he may have helped propel the maulana's energies in working towards a "true Islamic revolution in Pakistan," in the words of the maulana. At his institution in Akora Khatak he trains young men wo go forth and propagate the supremacy of the Quran.

"There is no other way," says Sami-ul Haq, adding "unless we have supremacy of the Quran, we cannot thrive as a nation."

But the maulana isn't impressed with the efforts of Nawaz Sharif towards Islamisation. Commenting on the proposed Shariat Bill, Sami-ul Haq says that it is "only a lollipop". He says that politicians in Pakistan "take refuge in religion when there are other problems at hand."

Turning his attention to Afghanistan, he says that the Taliban are not the bad people they have been made out to be. "Look at the violence that was prevailing because of the in-fighting of the so-called Mujahideen. Nobody was safe. Now things have changed for the better," he says. He says Pakistani politicians have used the Taliban card to gain sympathies for themselves from the West: "Benazir Bhutto tries to sell herself as a moderating force. But she is a compulsive liar and a thief."

If there is any development that Maulana Sami-ul Haq welcomes in the past year in Pakistan, it is the detonation of a nuclear device. "We have proved our manhood to Mother India," he says with a hint of sarcasm. But he warns that the Pakistani bomb is in the wrong hands; according to him. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will sell out to America.

A tour of his institution reveals a wide array of classrooms, prayer areas, dormitories and exercise grounds. There is even the office of a magazine which the institution publishes and a library. Most interesting was block for central Asian students. Buried in one courtyard is Maulana Abdul Haq, the founder of the institution and father of Maulana Sai-ul Haq, who came to Akora Khattak from Deoband to establish this centre for religious instruction in 1972. When asked whether he sees an Islamic revolution taking place in Pakistan. Sami-ul Haq predicts: "In the next few years."

He argues that things have got so bad and people are so frustrated with their leaders that Islam is the only force that they can turn to. And as an afterthought, the maulana says: "And it is here at places like the Dar-ul Uloom that we will provide the next generation of leaders, like we have done for Afghanistan. Here we give out puppets the ultimate weapon - the power of the Islamic knowledge.

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