A university of jihad owned by Pakistan; the Darul Uloom Haqqania; a sprawling Islam ic seminary situated in the town of Akora Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, northwestern Pakistan; barely 35 miles from Peshawar. At any given time, the seminary is home to at least 4000 students, mostly Afghan refugees, all fed, clothed and educated for free. For which, all thanks go to Pakistani funding from Pakistan political parties who considered this seminary integral to the theocratic fabric of Pakistan. But their intentions are anything but holy.
The Darul Uloom Haqqania is essentially a terror factory. It openly teaches Muslims about jihad and has routinely turned out dreaded terrorists including the top brasses of Taliban, including Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, also addressed with the honorific Mullah, the co-founder and the supreme leader of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan; was from the Darul Uloom. Mullah Omar; another co-founder had an honorary doctorate from the Darul Uloom, Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan militant commander and the founder of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group and Sirajuddin Haqqani; son of Jalaluddin Haqqani and current leader of the outfit; they're both from the seminary. Besides them, the Taliban's newly appointed Water and Energy Minister Mullah Abdul Latif, Telecommunication Minister Najibullah Haqqani, and the Minister for Refugee (of course they have one) Khalilur Rehman Haqqani are all from the seminary.
The Darul Uloom Haqqania is their alma mater. It teaches Deobandi Islam, a radical, revivalist and puritanical Islamic Movement [within Sunni (primarily Hanafi) Islam] with the conquest mindset at its core. The seminary gets open state support from Islamabad and sends terrorists to wage the "holy war" as they call it in Afghanistan. It has been dubbed the University of Jihad due to its methods and content of instruction, along with the future occupations of its alumni.
The Darul Uloom is one piece of the Afghan puzzle. For decades, Pakistan has been running a sophisticated network of financial, political, diplomatic and military support of the Taliban. The aim is very clear. Pakistan wants to make Afghanistan its sixth province.
The attainment of strategic depth against India is the prime objective of Pakistan's Afghan policy; a policy that could prove to be costly with consequences that Pakistan is not prepared for.
The story begins in 1971 after a bitter civil war. East Pakistan; a region dominated by Bengali-speaking communities ousted its Urdu speaking rulers from West Pakistan. It broke away to become Bangladesh. This loss made Pakistan paranoid about the western territories of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Balochistan is a chapter for another time but today's focus; the reason of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the home to large Pashtun communities divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan by a line i.e. the Durand Line; another historical headache, drawn by the British and rejected by the Afghans. Since 1947, successive Afghan governments have rejected the Durand Line. They've promoted the cause of "Pashtunistan– one Pashtunistan, a home of all Pashtuns". Pakistan of course doesn't want this. So it built seminaries, promoted radicalism in the hope that Islamic nationalism would overshadow Pashtun nationalism. Preventing the creation of the Pashtun state was a constant preoccupation of general Zia-ul-Haq, the chief of the Pakistan army who seized power in the 1978 coup. Between 1978 and 1988 General Zia-ul-Haq opened nearly 1,200 madrassas in Pakistan in 10 years, most of them were in Pakistan's northwest. These madrassas were used to suppress Pashtun nationalism.
Around the same time, Afghan jihad was gaining momentum. The Mujahideen with the support of the US was waging their holy war against the Soviets. Pakistan backed the Mujahideen and killed two birds with one stone: loyalty from the Mujahideen and money from the Americans, the CIA funnelled money and equipment to the ISI. The ISI trained the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s. Around 90,000 Afghans, including Mullah Omar, were trained by the ISI. In 1996, the Taliban seized power and Pakistan helped them. Only three countries in the world recognised this Taliban regime: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Pakistan gave the Taliban diplomatic support, funds, infrastructure according to Ahmed Rashid, the Interior Minister of Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan created the Afghan Trade Development Cell to funnel money and resources for the Taliban. The state-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation set up a telephone network for the Taliban, the Public Works Department repaired roads and provided electricity grids for the Taliban, the Paramilitary Frontier Corps set up a wireless network for Taliban commanders. Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority repaired Kandahar airport in Soviet jets and Radio Pakistan provided Technical Support to the Taliban's official radio services "Radio Shariat". Pakistan gave the Taliban everything they wanted. This included a haven after 9/11 when America's War on Terror began.
The political leadership of the Taliban camped in Peshawar, Quetta and Rawalpindi. The Taliban has named it 'Shura' or 'Councils' on the names of these cities. The Quetta Shura houses the Rahbari Shura; the decision-making body of the Taliban.
In addition to that, the federally administered tribal areas like south and north Waziristan. They act as a revolving door for the Afghan-Taliban and their partner in crime the Haqqani network. These territories joined the Afghan border, they were designated as tribal agencies, the administration is informal on purpose. It's an excuse to allow cross-border smuggling of drugs, weapons and terrorists. As many as 400 trucks cross the border every day. 400 trucks a day and they go uninspected, often carrying radicalised terrorist recruits. They enter Afghanistan and they do Pakistan's bidding.
According to the US State Department, around 40% of the Taliban ranks are Pakistanis. Some of them even fought in Panjshir. Some ID proof reportedly found on some terrorists testified this fact.
Pakistani recruits in the Taliban have a separate base. It's called Rishikor, located on the outskirts of Kabul; the Afghan Bureau of ISI one could say. At any given time, there are more than 1,000 recruits here hired as advisers and commanders by the Taliban. They are Pakistan's eyes and ears. According to the Human Rights Watch, with its bonds on the ground, it becomes easier for the Pakistan army to provide direct military support to the Taliban. We even saw that in Panjshir; a Pakistani invasion with an Afghan face. Pakistan's SSG troops were spotted on the ground, Pakistan's Cobra helicopters buzzed overhead. Time and again, the Taliban's military skills have surprisingly improved on the eve of pivotal battles and then they decline, equally surprisingly and quickly, after threats of intervention by world leaders.
What explains this?
It's the support of Pakistan.
The army provides the Taliban with cover, the ISI provides them with weapons. Several former ISI officials run import-export defence firms. They use their old Taliban ties and new business connections to act as middlemen. They buy technologies, weapons and spare parts for the Taliban. Here's one more example of Pakistani influence– Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar; who was jailed by Pakistan in 2010.
He tried to reach out to Hamid Karzai for a truce. Pakistan did not want this. So Baradar was put behind the bars. He stayed there for eight years. Then in 2018, the US wanted to talk to the Taliban, so the ISI promptly delivered Biradar to the talking table in Doha. Then we have Hibatullah Akhundzada; the supreme leader of the Taliban. He was said to be in Pakistani custody. It's still not clear though if he is back in Kandahar.
Pakistan pulls a lot of strings. Its role in the Taliban's affair is not overstated, but a reality. The smug satisfaction in Islamabad after their victory, the pro-Taliban rallies in Quetta, the unfurling of the Taliban's flags in Islamabad, the resurgence of Taliban offshoot in Pakistan, and celebratory statement by Pakistan's ministers; they're all testimony to the fact that the Taliban is a Pakistani proxy; one that could soon be redirected from Afghanistan to Kashmir.
In one interview by a local Pakistani news channel, Neelam Irshad Shaikh; a leader of the ruling PakistanTahreek-e-Islam (PTI) said, "Taliban says that they are with Pakistan and God willing they will come to help us conquer Kashmir. So, how are we in a bad state?"
This minister may be a loose cannon but she spelt Pakistan's strategy and desire: 'use Taliban to take Kashmir'. It is a dangerous game with serious consequences. Pakistan's Kashmir obsession will be its undoing. It is not a Taliban that depends on Pakistan for survival anymore. It is a Taliban in power, and Americans called them business-like and professionals. They might become the tail that wags the door. All loyalties rarely stand in the way of new temptations. It is not a hidden fact anymore that the Taliban are the most regressive force in Islamic history. They are the expression of a social epidemic that is prone to spreading and shall destroy Muslim societies like Pakistan if not eliminated. These are costs that the people of Pakistan must remind their government about for the sake of whatever little legitimacy Pakistan still enjoys on the international stage.