Tuesday, June 28

Madrasa Haqqania: The factory of ministers of the new Taliban regime | International

It is September 11 in the morning and in the madrasa (Koranic school of higher studies) Haqqania, 50 kilometers from Peshawar (Pakistan) and 100 from Afghanistan, there is a certain satisfaction and pride in the offices. A handful of the 33 members of the new Taliban government have passed through this campus. And that is interpreted as a victory, although the academic normality is not altered. There are eight or nine ministers, calculates Rashid Ul Haq, one of the heads of the Islamic institution and grandson of the founder. Among the alumni, the Minister of the Interior, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, the most radical wing of the group, for whom the United States offers five million dollars.

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“We are satisfied with the Taliban leadership” and with “their victory in the diplomatic field and on the battlefield,” says Ul Haq, who highlights the “experience” and “talent” of the ministers in an office of these facilities built in the Pakistani town of Akora Khattak. At the same time he is “surprised” that Washington has negotiated in Qatar for months with a group in which some of its members continue to be blacklisted by terrorists. That is why he understands that the United States is not complying with the agreement. “The Taliban are not the Taliban without the Haqqani” and major countries such as Russia, China or Pakistan support them, he adds.

“The Haqqania madrasa is not a training ground or an operational or planning site for the Taliban movement,” understands Safdar Hussain, an analyst at the Institute for Peace Studies in Pakistan. In fact, although there are eight current Taliban ministers trained in this institution, he does not believe that this school has any direct relationship with the change of power in Kabul, nor does he have evidence that the center as such has been directly related to activities. terrorists on either side of the border.

A group of students perform their ablutions before the noon prayer
A group of students perform their ablutions before the noon prayerLuis de Vega

Beyond the headlines of the new ministerial portfolios in Kabul, among the better-known names of the Haqqania madrasa are the now deceased former Taliban leaders Mullah Omar and Mullah Akhtar Mansour as well as the suicide bomber who killed former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Buttho and his buddy, who was arrested. But 74 years after going into operation, this is one of the most renowned Qur’anic seminaries of the roughly 35,000 in Pakistan. It has official aid and political formations. Among his benefactors is also Amir Khan Muttaqi, the new Taliban foreign minister.

“Osama bin Laden graduated in Engineering from a Swedish university” and “if a person graduates in a place and later does something, that is his business, it is not the responsibility of that institution or university”, defends Rashid Ul Haq, 49 years, while stroking his black beard, so perfect that sometimes it seems false. He also takes advantage of the day to condemn the 9/11 attacks and the death of “innocent civilians”. “But in our country and throughout the Islamic world there is not a single day without 9/11”, he adds.

AKORA KHATTAK (Pakistan).  11-09-2021.  Student at the Madrasa Haqqanía, a famous Koranic school with 4,000 students through which important Taliban leaders have passed, some of them in the current Kabul government.  PHOTO: LUIS DE VEGA

Photogallery: A Taliban school on the Afghanistan border

The neighboring country occupies a good part of his speech. “The main problem in Afghanistan was law and order. With this change, that problem will be solved, inshallah (God willing)”. “Afghanistan has become a bastion for various movements,” he adds without directly citing Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. “With the arrival of the Afghan Taliban, all of them will end,” he says optimistically in responses that avoid entering slippery terrain.

They do not like the widespread nickname of the “university of jihad” with which the media refers to the institution, but they assume that journalists ask about it. And they respond with their arguments. “They refer to our pure educational institution as a school for fighters, a haven for terrorists, the father of the Taliban. [apodo del padre de Rashid Ul Haq], etc. All these titles were awarded by the West while our main objective is only education ”, defends Ul Haq.

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A group of students in the area of ​​the Haqqania madrasa dedicated to minors.
A group of students in the area of ​​the Haqqania madrasa dedicated to minors.Luis de Vega

Pakistan launched a plan in 2015 to try to better tie the more than 30,000 Koranic schools in the country. It seeks to increase control from the intelligence and justice services to curb the possible relationship with terrorism, especially in those that are not considered official, who were then between 8,000 and 10,000.

This plan does not appeal to everyone, because the group formed by the main madrasas, grouped into five schools of thought (including Deobandi, where the Haqqania is framed), considers that armed activism and religion are not related, according to a study from January this year from the Institute for Peace Studies. The Government is particularly concerned about funding and the arrival of foreign students. In any case, it is considered an achievement to have agreed that the madrasas fall under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education and not under the tentacles of security.

Radical jihadism

However, the outgoing government of Kabul felt threatened by institutions such as the Haqqania madrasa, which “generate radical jihadism, produce Taliban and threaten our country,” Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the already deposed Afghan president, told AFP last November. , Ashraf Ghani.

The Haqqania madrasa was founded in 1947 by the maulana (teacher) Abdul Haq, Rashid Ul Haq’s grandfather. His father, Sami Ul Haq, a deputy and senator and known as the “father of the Taliban” in Pakistan, subsequently took the reins, until his assassination in 2018. Today, according to those responsible, the school has 4,000 talib (students) of which about 3,500 of all ages, from children to the elderly, live on campus as can be seen during the visit. They are housed and indoctrinated for free in Spartan facilities. A group of kids who cook in a little hell next to the stairs of one of the residences show the interior of the room where eight of them sleep with no furniture other than a few mats on the floor. They are seen happily accommodated in austerity.

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A student in front of the main building of the Haqqania madrasa, near Peshawar
A student in front of the main building of the Haqqania madrasa, near PeshawarLuis de Vega

“Madrasas largely serve the educational needs of the poorest sectors of society, who cannot take their children to public or private schools,” says analyst Safdar Hussain without hiding that in them, in addition to concentrating the charitable interest , they also put interested donor eyes. Within Pakistan itself, he points out, they also represent an important weight both in the street and for religious parties.

Door for girls

Next to the children’s area of ​​the Haqqania madrasa there is a door that leads to an area for girls, according to a companion who, swiftly, does not allow the reporter to look out. “Women have the right to educate themselves,” defends the institution’s spokesman, Sayed Yousuf Shah, 56, although he makes it clear that everyone has to do it on their own. A few meters from that space forbidden to man, a fenced plot houses a small cemetery in which they are buried, among others, the founder of the madrasa and his son, the considered “father of the Taliban” in Pakistan.

“The world is giving the Taliban a chance and in two months everything will change,” says Rashid Ul Haq, who regrets having been without visiting Spain since before 9/11. He acknowledges that his father did have travel restrictions, but in these two decades he has only moved through Muslim countries. The reporter asks him to photograph him and tells him how neat his beard is. He then recognizes that he was wearing it freshly dyed from the night before. He pulls out a comb and shows it off smugly before posing.

Rashid Ul Haq, one of the people in charge of the Haqqania madrasa, during his interview with EL PAÍS
Rashid Ul Haq, one of the people in charge of the Haqqania madrasa, during his interview with EL PAÍSLuis de Vega

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