Ajmal Sohail, co-founder and co-president of Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany and a national security and counter-terrorism analyst
When the British left the Subcontinent in 1947, two new states were created. One, India, was formally non-aligned, while tilting to the Soviet Union. The other, Pakistan, was seen as more pro-Western, retaining close links with Britain—until 1959, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was a British General, Robert Cawthome—and developing closer ties to the United States at the dawn of the Cold War, especially after the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear weapon in August 1949.
There were problems from the beginning, however. Despite the political, military, and financial support Pakistan received from the West, the Pakistani state prioritized its ideological conflict with India, and the associated revisionist territorial claims on Kashmir, using the Western resources it was given towards than end, rather than containing Communism. Pakistan’s main instrument in pursuing these goals from the earliest days after independence was terrorism, and after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Pakistanis would drag the United States into supporting its operations in that country using Islamist militants. It was in this environment that the global jihad movement was developed.
A major component of the ISI-controlled Mujahideen that the West ended up supporting to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had been indoctrinated at the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary in Pakistan, an important center of the nascent transnational jihadist movement in the late 1970s. One of the founders of the seminary in 1945 was Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, a cleric and activist who was one of the drivers behind the “Objectives Resolution” that defined Pakistan as an Islamic state.
Usmani created Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) in 1947 as a breakaway from the main branch of the Jamiat. Usmani’s group was comprised of Deobandi religious scholars from among the faction who supported partition to create Pakistan. JUI would in turn split into three groups: (1) Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) led by Fazal-ur-Rehman; (2) Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (S) led by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq; and (3) Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Bangladesh.
Rehman would later be a key supporter of the Taliban during its rise to power in the 1990s and Haq is known as the “Father of the Taliban”. Haq split his faction of the Jamiat away from Rehman’s over essentially tactical differences in engaging the Pakistani state: Haq was openly pro-state, supporting the Islamizing policies, and the Afghan jihad that was part of this, under the rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq from 1977 to 1988. Haq became the chancellor of Darul Uloom Haqqania in 1988, after his father, Abdul Haq, died, and held the position until his own death in 2008.
Probably the most infamous graduate of Darul Uloom Haqqania is Jalal Uddin Haqqani, whose Haqqani Network, supported by the ISI, was an important player among the Mujahideen in the 1980s. Haqqani was able to use the connections made through the seminary to recruit from all across Pakistan, and he was even being praised by American President Ronald Reagan as a “freedom fighters”. Subsequently, the Haqqanis became close to Al-Qaeda and crucial in the rise of the Taliban.
The most important of the ISI-controlled Mujahideen groups was Hezb-e-Islami, run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. A close friend of Hekmatyar’s was Siraj-ul-Haq, the chief of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba student group. Both Hekmatyar and Siraj are disciples of Abu Ala al-Mawdudi, the most influential Islamist ideologue on the Subcontinent.
As the Soviets were withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1989, Hekmatyar and Siraj went to Kandahar to meet with Haji Abdul Latif Khan, a leader of the Barakzai tribe and father of Gul Agha Sherzai. They then met with the leader of the Dalkozo tribe, Mawla Naqibullah Akhund. Khan and Akhund were important collaborators with Hekmatyar in the next phase of the Afghan war, against the Communist regime the Soviets left behind, working to overthrow Communism in the south-western zone of Afghanistan.
Siraj’s role in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal would prove to be quite minimal, both during the war against the Afghan Communist regime, from 1989 to 1992, and during the Taliban takeover from 1994 to 1996, because the ISI diverted him to Kashmir, where the Pakistanis finally succeeded in starting an internal war in 1989, using many of the jihadists who had gained experience in Afghanistan.
Siraj became the spiritual leader of Al-Badr group in 1998 in Kashmir. Originally, Al-Badr, formed with the help of Pakistan’s ISI, operated as a faction of Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, and its jihadists were generally Hekmatyar’s men sent from Afghanistan. Over time, the ISI would inject other groups into the Kashmir theatre, like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Many of the fighters for these “Kashmiri” groups were indoctrinated at Pakistani Islamic seminaries like Darul Uloom Haqqania. According to the sources, Siraj was given the title of “Father of Jammu and Kashmir Freedom Fighters” in 2001 by Pakistan’s ISI and army.
What began with the founding of Pakistan and escalated, with Western assistance, through the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s has now come full circle—and no lessons have been learned. When the ISI succeeded in re-installing the Taliban in power in Afghanistan in August 2021, Siraj publicly called the Taliban “freedom fighters” and emphasized that the “vision” of the jihadists that ISI has nurtured was global, mentioning Palestine as a target for these groups. Despite the ISI’s proxies openly planning for global terrorism from their base in Afghanistan, where they killed hundreds of Western soldiers and thousands of Afghan civilians, the U.S. still says, “we value our bilateral relationship“ with Pakistan.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.