Islamic seminaries emerge as looming threat

A recent US Defense Department report has highlighted the role of Pakistani madrassas in militant attacks carried out in Afghanistan. But according to Islamabad, the report is nothing but bad Western propaganda.

Pakistani Islamic seminaries, or madrassas, as they are called, are reportedly being used as safe havens for known terrorists who plan and carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Various militant organizations have established safe heavens and hideouts in these madrassas in the northwestern provinces of Pakistan, Khyber Pakthoonkhaw and Balochistan, linked with the border areas of Afghanistan, according to a US defense department report from April 2014.

The US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan James Dobbins in a series of talks at the end of April criticized Islamabad for not taking the pertinent measures to curb terrorism inside the country and the role of madrassas in attacks on other side of the border.

“Pakistan cooperated in some counterterrorism activities in Afghanistan, devising pressure against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants groups. Pakistan did not take significant action against Afghan-focused insurgent groups in Pakistan during the reporting period,” reads the report “Progress towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” which was published by the US defense department.

The report revealed that Afghan insurgent groups have maintained sanctuaries in Pakistani madrassas, which has been a major factor preventing their defeat. Taliban attacks in Afghanistan which are launched from seminaries in Pakistan pose a serious problem, according to the report. These sanctuaries exist primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan.

seminary students purchase books from an Islamic book shop in Peshawar Here, seminary students purchase books from an Islamic book shop in Peshawar

“Irrational conspiracy”

However Pakistani authorities have strongly rejected this US defense department report and termed it irrational and a conspiracy against Pakistan to ruin the country’s image.

Pakistan’s Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed refuted the allegations, saying that there are no such hideouts or militant sanctuaries being operated from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or Balochistan. “Mostly these reports have been manipulated with twist of facts and figures rather than drawing the true picture according to the ground realities,” he told DW.

Rasheed said bilateral and strategic US-Pakistani relations were very positive and he said that there was an atmosphere of confidence building between both countries.

Pakistani seminaries

The concept of Jihad in Pakistan was spread by madrassas at the time of Soviet Union disintegration by the US. Afghan soil had been used for the guerilla war to invade the formerly United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR).

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Darul-Uloom-e-Haqqania is one the most renowned seminaries along the Grand Trunk Road in Akora Khattak, a city of Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

This seminary was founded by Maulana Abdul Haq, father of Maulana Sami Ul Haq, who is known as the father of the Taliban movement. The majority of Taliban commanders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of Haqqani Network, are students of this seminary.

Haqqani Network

According to the US defense report, the Haqqani Network has evolved into the most virulent strain of the insurgency; it poses the greatest risk for coalition forces, and is a critical enabler of other terrorist networks. The terrorist group led the insurgency in the three eastern Afghan provinces of Paktika, Paktia, and Khost, and demonstrated the capability and intent to support and launch high-profile, complex attacks against Afghans and international forces across the country.

A few weeks earlier while addressing a huge gathering in Peshawar, hardliner cleric Maulana Sami ul Haq said: “The United States and the Western countries have united against the seminaries as they are feared with the power, knowledge and discipline of the seminaries in Pakistan.”

He said that the United States and its allies were determined to ruin the image of the seminaries in Pakistan.

US-Pakistani relations

The United States continues to seek a constructive relationship with Pakistan that benefits both US and Pakistani interests. Under a newly-elected government, Pakistan’s association with the US remains constructive, and both nations continue to acknowledge the importance of their maintaining bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual concern.

A street view of Jhangi Mohalla in Peshawar A street view of Jhangi Mohallah in Peshawar which is a hub for Islamic publications

While talking on Pakistan’s contribution to the war against terrorism, retired General Hamid Gul, former head of the military’s spy agency, the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) said, “Pakistan has given enormous sacrifices in this war against terrorism for the US; but now it seems that the US is losing this war in Afghanistan and trying to make responsible Pakistan for their failure in the region.”

“This is a false accusation that the seminaries are involved in the attacks in Afghanistan and India, the report is really based on illogical information to spread propaganda against Pakistan,” Gul said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan

The report further revealed that both the neighboring countries are willing to create strong and stable relations but that there is a lot of confusion and there are misperceptions, due to which there is a tense atmosphere of mistrust.

A number of successful meetings of confidence-building measures have been initiated between President Hamid Karazi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but still a lot of effort is still required to properly improve relations between the neighbors.

  • Author Malik Ayub Sumbal, Islamabad