In the aftermath of the gruesome attack on Amjad Sabri, one of the most famed Qawwali singers in Pakistan, revelations of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) providing funding for the Dar Ul Uloom Haqqania came to the fore in the mainstream media. For a party seen as championing the cause of accountability, this news has raised concerns among the PTI’s staunchest detractors, many of whom had earlier questioned Imran Khan’s stance regarding the Taliban, ongoing peace negotiations, and the security of the state.
The seminary in question has gained notoriety for promoting a strict, puritanical version of Islam and some of the senior-most members of the Taliban have been among its alumni. Chief among them is the now deceased Mullah Omar, the long-elusive leader of the Taliban. Revelations of his death sabotaged the Murree peace process between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government last year. Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, and members of the Haqqani Network, including Jalaluddin Haqqani, have also been among the alumni of the seminary. The Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan also revealed in 2010 that assassination attempts on the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, can also be traced back to the seminary.
It is within this context that the PTI’s funding of Dar Ul Uloom Haqqani is questionable and alarming. Taxpayer money amounting to Rs. 300 million (roughly $3 million) is claimed to have been diverted toward the seminary from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa budget of 2016-2017.
With Pakistan in a de facto state of war against militants as part of the National Action Plan (NAP), such revelations dent the credibility of the party, which is already accused of backtracking on many pressing issues that it initially championed. The PTI has responded by claiming that madrassah reform is an essential aspect of the NAP and the funding has been directed toward introducing subjects such as mathematics, English language, and sciences into the curriculum. (Such funding was also provided after 9/11 by the United States and by Benazir Bhutto herself.) Hence, as per the PTI’s logic, such reform complements instead of contradicts the objectives of NAP. The problem, however, is that this funding can easily be diverted toward rogue elements that could be empowered to avenge the current operation conducted by the Pakistani Armed Forces under the leadership of General Raheel Sharif, where the indiscriminate killing of militants has been a regular occurrence.
Hence, these revelations are a setback for a party that hinges on a reformist agenda, centering on a Pakistan that is free from corruption and where the rule of law is supreme. The party also believes in promoting an agenda that safeguards the rights of minorities. Minority groups have frequently been targeted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its sympathizers.
The timing of these revelations has put Imran Khan’s party into the spotlight again. Given that Pakistan is fighting extremists and facing blowback attacks, like the attack on Amjad Sabri, the entire democratic system and all parties need to be united in the fight. For a party like the PTI, which has had weighty expectations attached to it, such a revelation is undoubtedly a setback and a shock.
Hamzah Rifaat is a research associate at the Global Think Tank Network at the National University of Sciences and Technology and was a 2016 South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center.