The killing in Rawalpindi of Maulana Samiul Haq, also known as Mullah Sandwich for his massage preference, is probably significant in its irrelevance.
It isn’t clear as yet whether his killing was a murder or an assassination.
In either case, it is probably not going to prove to be an earth-shattering development. The shock value of his killing is only enhanced by the fact that it has come at a time when Pakistan is in the throes of Islamist mobs running amok and bringing the Islamic State to its knees.
Perhaps if this killing happened at another time, it wouldn’t have caused more than a few ripples. Politically, Samiul Haq was a spent force. Within the Deobandi movement, while he had his following, his faction of the Jamiat Ulema Islam had been outclassed, outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by the faction led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
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He gained some traction after Imran Khan tried to build him up as a counter force to Fazlur Rehman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Imran Khan’s party’s government in K-P not only pumped money into Samiul Haq’s madarsa, but also aligned with him in the 2018 general elections. But this alliance was a bit of a sideshow.
Other than this, Samiul Haq was the head of the ISI created Difa-e-Pakistan Council. This is a virtual rogues gallery of jihadist groups who had been brought together by the ISI to function as a pressure group.
The fulminations in the DPC gatherings were aimed at not just the US and other Western countries to convince, scare or dissuade them from pushing Pakistan too hard on terrorism, but also against the political government to not do anything that went counter to the ‘national consensus’ (as defined by the Islamists and their patrons, the Pakistan Army) on India.
Samiul Haq – Father of the Taliban?
Samiul Haq had gained notoriety as the ‘father of the Taliban’.
But this was a bit of a stretch. At best, he was one among the many illegitimate fathers or godfathers of the Taliban. To the extent that the Taliban movement is a Pakistani product that has been manufactured in his madarsa and then exported to – nay, inflicted and imposed upon – Afghanistan, gave Samiul Haq the moniker that he wore as a badge of honour.
But his influence, even more his control, over the Taliban has been somewhat exaggerated.
Many of the first generation of the Taliban had come out of the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak, which had been set up by Samiul Haq’s father. Their barbarism and medievalism aside, these guys were old school in the sense that they had imbibed and adhered to the old traditions of deference and respect to their ustad (teacher).
The ustad usually is put on a high pedestal and in this context, Samiul Haq probably had some influence on the older lot of Taliban. But even this influence was limited. It wasn’t as though he was able to dictate and direct, much less control them.
If anything, he was more used by the Taliban – both Afghan and Pakistani – for facilitating them, advocating their cause, providing them with the cannon fodder they needed for their murderous ventures.
His network was useful for all sorts of nefarious activities – the Akora Khattak madarsa is supposed to have played a role even in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Over the last decade or so, the Taliban movement has a new generation that has taken charge. This lot is far more radicalised and far less beholden to the old-world values of their predecessors.
How much influence Samiul Haq still wielded is debatable. He probably still had links and contacts with the Taliban. Perhaps that was the reason why the Afghan government sought his offices to open up a line of communication with the Taliban.
But whether he had the heft to swing a peace deal with the Taliban is extremely doubtful. Even his utility as an intermediary was questionable. He was appointed as a negotiator by the Pakistani Taliban, but the talks between the Pakistan government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan collapsed.
To put it simply, it required taking leave of all senses to appoint an unabashed Taliban supporter as a honest broker in any dialogue with the Taliban, whether Afghan or Pakistani.
Given that Samiul Haq was at best a figurehead for all sorts of dubious causes and groups, both his nuisance value as well as his utility was limited.
He was, of course, one of those holy warriors who worked as an underling of the military establishment, but even so, there was a limit to how much service he could provide them.
Theories Shrouding Haq’s Death
The question therefore is – who would like to bump him off?
There are various theories floating around. The first is that it was probably a robbery gone horribly wrong. After all, which assassin in this day and age uses the messy and inefficient method of stabbing to get his quarry?
The second theory is that this was a crime of passion. The Maulana was known for his sexual peccadilloes and there are some unconfirmed reports of a mysterious woman being present in the house.
Even otherwise, there is a possibility that someone he rubbed the wrong way (the pun is entirely intended) took his revenge.
The third theory is that this was the outcome of some power struggle within the outfit. But this seems a bit far-fetched at this point. Nor is there any news, at least not in the open source domain, about any kind of power struggle to capture the madarsa.
Finally, there is the possibility that this was a targeted killing, an assassination to either make an example of him or to sabotage whatever role he was expected to play in the so-called reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Conspiracy theorists in Pakistan are, predictably, pointing fingers at the Afghan and Indian intelligence. But the logic of the argument is extremely flimsy, not that this has ever prevented the Pakistanis from spinning the most bizarre theories and yarns.
Of course, if either India or Afghanistan had this sort of capability, then by now many of their enemies would have already met their maker. Alas, the Tigers and Agent Vinods are figments of Bollywood imagination, not real characters.
On a personal note: I happened to meet the Maulana in his apartment in Islamabad some ten years back. Despite his avowed hatred for Hindus and for India, he was extremely courteous and welcoming, even candid in explaining his being outmanoeuvred by Fazlur Rehman and his brand of politics.
In his inimitable style, he chuckled and said “Mullah Islam Islam nahin karega to siyasat kya aur kaise karega” (If the Mullah doesn’t use Islam, how else will he do politics?)
(Sushant Sareen is a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)