Roots of the Taliban

Published December 3, 2023
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

PAKISTAN’S initial support for the Afghan Taliban regime proved short-lived — a surprising turn of events for many observers. After actively lobbying for international recognition for the Taliban administration, Pakistan abruptly lost confidence in the group. While political factors, mainly the Taliban’s reluctance to take action against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have been cited as explanations for this shift in stance, the underlying political ideology has been largely overlooked in such analyses. This is understandable, given that deep-rooted theological and ideological differences are often ignored in sociopolitical and strategic discussions.

But one cannot ignore the crucial role of Pakistani madressahs in nurturing the political ideology of the Taliban. These religious institutions held a different vision of the state and its governance from that of the founders of Pakistan, who had emphasised a Muslim identity rather than a theological state or the revival of the Islamic caliphate system. The All India Muslim League, representing the Muslim gentry and elite, was an extension of the Aligarh movement, advocating modern and rationalist approaches. In contrast, religious parties like the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind and Jamaat-i-Islami, with the former particularly representing the Deobandi movement, adhered to a traditionalist and revivalist ideology stemming from Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, and influenced by the political Islam tendencies prevalent in Arab societies.

These contrasting visions of the state persisted even after independence, as evident in the country’s constitutional debates. While religious parties endorsed the 1973 Constitution, madressahs remained staunch proponents of the Deobandi ideology, passing it down to the Taliban and Pakistani militant organisations involved in conflicts in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The madressahs’ simplistic argument was that the Pakistani system did not align with Islamic principles, and its rulers lacked the qualifications to be a caliph or God’s true representative.

Rulers and power elites consistently overlooked the significance of theological differences.

Rulers and power elites consistently overlooked the significance of theological differences, instead utilising religious institutions persistently for political, strategic, and national cohesion objectives. However, they failed to recognise that these core differences fostered a completely distinct mindset and worldview within those institutions.

Taliban chief justice Mullah Abdul Hakim Haqqani’s book Al Emarat al Islamiyya wa Nizamha (The Islamic Emirate and its Systems), offers a unique glimpse into the Taliban’s current political perspective, aligning with the views fostered in Pakistani madressahs. Haqqani, a graduate of Darul Uloom Haqqania, a prominent madressah in KP, draws upon his academic background to present arguments deeply rooted in the belief that God is the ultimate authority, challenging the supremacy of human power as seen in democratic systems. He advocates for the continuation of jihad even after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, emphasising the need for Hanafi interpretations to govern all aspects of life, including legal, jurisprudential, social, educational, governance, and judicial matters. The book’s stance on Hanafi interpretations is exceptionally rigid, advocating for punishing those who deviate from this school of thought.

In the mid-1990s, the Deobandi movement brie­fly succeeded in establishing a state aligned with its ideals, but the current Taliban regime more closely reflects the state envisioned by Deobandi institutions. Whereas in the 1990s, the Taliban re­­g­­­ime drew inspiration from diverse sources, in­­c­luding Arab influences, Al Qaeda, and a more idealistic concept of governance, the current regime embodies the culmination of the madressah-nurtured Taliban movement. Mullah Hakim’s arguments remind me of Michael Sem­ple’s 2014 resea­rch paper, Rhetoric, Ideology and Organisational Structure of the Taliban Movement. Semple deconstructed the Taliban’s ideological framework by examining their training manuals, which were heavily influenced by Pakistani religious scholars, primarily Mufti Rasheed Ahmed. A Karachi-based jihadist ideologue and Taliban mentor during the 1990s, Mufti Rasheed, through his teachings, inspired generations of jihadists in Pakistan. For these militants, the head of the Pakistani state was not qualified to be declared ‘ameer’, a notion that various religious parties had promoted.

The core principles of the organisational culture outlined by Mufti Rasheed in the manual can be traced back to the Deobandi madressah movement and its tradition of puritan Sunni reformism. The majority of madressahs in Pakistan adhere to this Deobandi tradition. Semple’s research highlighted the Taliban’s national-level leadership connections with Pakistani madressahs, emphasising that leadership positions remained exclusive to the madressah-educated clerics. This shared background among the leadership facilitates the Taliban’s operation as a closed network. Religious scholars, such as Mufti Rasheed, played a pivotal role in shaping the political mindset of the Taliban and Pakistani militants.

While the Taliban were engaged in their war against Kabul and foreign troops, Pakistani ulema began to reconsider their previously held views. This shift in opinion was prompted by a surge in religiously motivated violence and hatred that threatened the very foundations of society, compelling the establishment to revaluate its ideologically driven strategic approach. Prominent national religious and political figures launched the Paigham-i-Pakistan declaration at the President House on Jan 15, 2018.

An intriguing twist emerged when leading Pakistani scholars visited Afghanistan to congratulate the Taliban leadership on their victory. They also met the TTP leadership to persuade them to renounce militancy. However, TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud countered their appeal by recalling the fatwas issued by Pakistani ulema prior to Paigham-i-Pakistan, and the pervasive pro-jihad sentiment within the madressahs. In a message, he asserted that fatwas issued by Pakistani ulema initiated the TTP’s jihad, and “if there is any deficiency … or omission from us in the implementation of this fatwa, or if we have changed our jihadi direction, then you guide us and argue, [and] we are ready to listen to your arguments”.

Recent videos and messages released by the Taliban leader criticising the establishment can also be understood in the context of the two competing ideologies of statecraft that emerged during British colonialism. These ideologies are now fully apparent in the distinct governance styles of Afghanistan and Pakistan. With their inherent dichotomies and opposing arguments, these ideologies will continue to shape distinct mindsets in the two countries, potentially causing political discord.

Pakistani madressahs currently drawing inspiration from the Taliban’s style of governance had flourished under the patronage of the Aligarh generations. However, these generations remained oblivious to the unintended consequences of their actions, which have not only impacted Pakistan internally but have also spilled across the western borders.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

Pipeline progress
25 Feb, 2024

Pipeline progress

THE outgoing caretaker government has decided to move forward with the much-delayed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline...
Engaging the Taliban
25 Feb, 2024

Engaging the Taliban

DEALING with the Taliban — Afghanistan’s de facto rulers — continues to present a diplomatic dilemma for the...
Burden or opportunity?
Updated 25 Feb, 2024

Burden or opportunity?

Maryam Nawaz is embarking on a journey of challenges and opportunities.
Course correction
Updated 24 Feb, 2024

Course correction

PTI should not abandon its power and responsibility while expecting an external stakeholder to set things right.
The plot thickens
Updated 24 Feb, 2024

The plot thickens

THE recent explosive allegations by Liaquat Ali Chattha, the former commissioner of Rawalpindi, have thrust the...
Trigger-happy police
24 Feb, 2024

Trigger-happy police

ARE the citizens of Karachi becoming fair game again? There were some grisly signs of a rapid return to living...