After murder of Pakistan’s Sami ul-Haq, who can build bridges with the Taliban?

Kaswar Klasra

Published: Updated:

Students, teachers and staff are mourning the gruesome murder of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a well-known cleric and chancellor of Pakistan’s Darul Uloom Haqqania, a seminary.

Taliban chief Mullah Omar had received honorary doctorate from this seminary and it is believed that majority of leaders of Afghan Taliban leaders, including Jalaluddeen Haqqani, founder of Haqqani network, and Akhtar Mansoor, former leader of Taliban, had studied here.

The seminary had made headlines in local and international media in 2015 after country’s Federal Investigation Agency told an Anti-Terrorism Court that students of Darul Uloom Haqqania were involved in the assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The seminary administration denied the charge arguing that it had no connection with the suspects.

Located in the heart of Nowshera, a city in Khyber Pakhtoonkhaw, around 100 km west of Islamabad, Darul Uloom Haqqania is a seminary, which propagates the Deobandi branch of Sunni Islam, founded along the lines of Darul Uloom Deoband in India.

Maulana Sami-ul-Haq’s father, Maulana Abdul Haq, had founded the seminary on September 23, 1947. Sami-ul-Haq served as its Chancellor until his assassination on 2nd November 2018.

“It’s a sad day for all of us. I can’t believe that Maulana sahib has departed,” Jawad Toro, one of the teachers at seminary told this correspondent.

Maulana Sami-ul-Haq was stabbed to death at his residence in the garrison city of Rawalpindi last week on Friday. He was laid to rest in Darul Uloom haqqania the following day.

‘Father of Taliban’

Given that majority of the leadership of Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network including Siraj-ud-deen Haqqani and Mullah Omar had studied in his seminary, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq had enjoyed great influence over Taliban.

Governments in Pakistan had been maintaining close relationship with Haqqani network and Taliban through Sami-ul-Haq. After Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, as many as eight ministers in its cabinet had studied in Darul Uloom Haqqania. This gave Maulana Sami-ul-haq a reputation of ‘father of Taliban’ globally.

His assassination also shocked Pakistani government as well as country’s powerful military. While Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies are digging deep to unfold the circumstances leading to his assassination, Rawalpindi-based investigative journalist Sohail Rana sees personal enmity behind the cold-blooded murder.

“Murder could be a result of personally enmity. The way he was tabbed in the neck, arms and chest shows murderer was not a professional killer,” Sohail Rana, a noted crime investigative journalist told Al Arabiya English. Rana’s claim was endorsed by a senior police officer who was the first one to take a look at cleric’s dead body.

“I don’t see any professional killer behind the murder the way Maulana was stabbed to death,” he said.

Filling his shoes

Now, the million dollar question arises as to who will replace Maulana Sami ul-Haq while dealing with the Taliban.

Raashid Salah Uddin Siddiqui, an expert on Taliban Affairs, believes Maulana Sami-ul-Haq has long been serving as mediator between Taliban and the rest of the world. However, he has been inactive for the last couple of years.

“Fazlur Rehman Khalil is the man who is maintaining close relationship with the Taliban. He was also one of the main figures who attended Ulema conference held in Jakarta,” Raashid told Al Arabiya English.

According to him, Fazlur Rehman Khalil was also among the noted religious leaders who gathered in Islamabad last month and endorsed peace process in Afghanistan.

“As a result of this get together of religious leaders which was headed by Pakistan’s federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri and attended by a Taliban delegation and Pakistani Ulema including Fazlur Rehman Khalil, government of Pakistan released Abdul Ghani Bradar, Mullah Abdul Samad Sani and five other commanders,” Raashid said.

Notably, Pakistan had released Taliban co-founder and second in command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and others last month in October after first round of Taliban-USA direct talks held in Qatar this year. Baradar was detained soon after world trade center attack in 2001.

A spokesperson of the US embassy in Islamabad didn’t answer a query when asked about the role of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq in facilitating US-Taliban direct talks. However, an official of the US embassy confirmed that Sami-ul-Haq had played no role at all.

Direct talks

“It were direct talks between US and Taliban. Government of Pakistan had supported the talks but Sami-ul-Haq had played no role in initiating or facilitating the talks,” the official of US embassy who was familiar about the US-Taliban direct talks, told Al Arabiya English.

It is worth noting that Maulana Sami ul-Haq had welcomed direct talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban. Both, Maulana Sami ul-Haq and Fazlur Rehman Khalil also maintained close links with Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan.

While Maulana Sami-ul-Haq had supported Imran Khan’s political party during general elections held in July this year, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil also played an important role in Imran Khan’s landmark victory. On October 12, 2018, Maulana Sami ul-Haq held two-hour meeting with Prime Minister Khan to expedite work on granting nationalities to Afghan and Bengali refugees.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil said he supports direct talks held between Taliban and the United States and would love to play a role in peace talks if He is assigned any role to play.

“No one can fill the gap left by Maulna Sami ul-Haq. His death shocked us all. However, I will be happy to play any role in peace talks if assigned in future. I believe only dialogue and peace talks can shape up the future of Afghanistan,” Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil said.

Despite all his ‘Father of Taliban’ image, Maulana Sami ul-Haq remained a go-between for governments looking to reach out to Taliban. To find someone of that stature to play that role is going to be a difficult challenge going forward.