Pakistan’s main opposition party allies with ‘Taliban seminary’

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Supporters of opposition leader Imran Khan's PTI political party attend a celebration rally in Islamabad on July 30, 2017, after the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

In a significant move bound to raise international concerns, Pakistan’s leading opposition party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), is formulating a joint electoral strategy with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Sami (JUI-S), insiders in both parties have told Asia Times. General elections are just a few months away.

JUI-S is the political wing of the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary, renowned for being the alma mater of Taliban leaders of past and present. It is led by Sami-ul-Haq, the Islamist cleric known fondly as the ‘Father of the Taliban.’

In November, PTI chief Imran Khan met with Sami-ul-Haq to discuss a potential alliance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwala (KP) province. The two have been in touch throughout the past month and a half, sources confirm.

“Imran Khan has ensured that the PTI’s rallying cry will be the implementation of Sharia law,” a PTI member told Asia Times. “We want to create an Islamic welfare state, and that is what the JUI-S wants as well.”

JUI-S Secretary General Abdur Rauf Farooqi confirmed that the creation of an Islamic state is a “joint agenda” of the PTI and his party.

“It is our mission to support jihad and Islamist freedom movements, and also to clarify misconceptions about jihad,” he told Asia Times.

“While we continue to support the struggle overseas, it is important to implement a truly Islamic system in Pakistan as well. And in PTI we have a willing partner that has already taken steps towards Islamization in KP.”

PTI currently allies itself with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in KP, and the two have collaborated to revise educational curricula in the province. “The removal of secular references and the Islamization of  syllabuses, and overturning secular references and mentions of non-Muslims [instituted by a previous coalition government that included the secularist Awami National Party (ANP)] government was one of the first demands of the JI before joining us,” confirms another PTI leader.

In June 2016, the PTI-led KP government gave a Rs 300 million (US$2.7 million) grant to Darul Uloom Haqqania, prompting criticism from many quarters. Imran Khan later claimed the grant was in exchange for reform within its madrassa. However, sources inform Asia Times that the funds have gone on upgrading a high school affiliated with the controversial seminary and not the madrassa itself.

“[That spin] is how the JUI-S is protecting against a potential crackdown,” says a KP government official. “But considering that the PTI chief Imran Khan himself came out and justified the money actually going to Darul Uloom Haqqania, we all know where it is actually going.”

JUI-S Spokesman Yousaf Shah insists the KP government has spent money on many educational institutions and questions why there is such alarm about funds for the “Haqqania school.”

“Darul Uloom Haqqania does not need any funding, and all conspiracies against us should stop,” Shah says. “It is a centre of excellence in Islamic studies where many Taliban (students of Islam) have graduated from.”

Shah adds that the JUI-S will continue to support the Taliban’s struggle.

“The Afghan Taliban are fighting foreign US occupation, and every Muslim should support their struggle. The next step is proper Islamization of Pakistan and eradication of secular forces,” he says. “In this regard, we have an ideological alliance with the PTI as well, in addition to the political cooperation.”

While PTI has admitted to the new political alliance, its leaders maintain the ideological commonalities are a “matter of interpretation.”

“We both agree that Pakistan should be an Islamic welfare state, but the JUI-S has their own interpretation and we have ours,” PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry told Asia Times.

JUI-S insiders maintain, however, that the meeting between Sami-ul-Haq and Imran Khan establishes thorough Islamization as a common agenda of both the parties.

“The changes made in the KP curricula are something we would want for the rest of the country as well,” says Yousaf Shah. “We would want Pakistan’s ideology to be in line with Darul Uloom Haqqania.”

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