Imran Khan’s funding of University of Jihad is”dangerously naive”, say U.S. Experts

Washington: Imran Khan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government’s funding of over $2.8mn to a madrasa known as ‘University of Jihad’ has been termed as “dangerously naive” by the analysts in Washington DC who believe that Khan is doing this at the behest of the ISI and to position himself for the next elections.

“One could argue that the PTI genuinely believes that funding the Haqqania facility will put the institution in a stronger position to carry out education reforms. Given Haqqani’s reputation, however, it seems wildly risky to throw so much money at it and to assume otherwise is dangerously naïve,” says Micheal Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and South East Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC.

Given PTI’s reputation for making some eyebrow-raising moves in recent years such as repeatedly calling for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban even as they carried out attacks in several parts of Pakistan, Kugelman points out “the question is whether the PTI is being naive or nefarious.”

Darul Uloom Haqqania Nowshera has been dubbed the ” University of Jihad” with top rung Afghan Taliban leaders among its graduates, including the group’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, who was announced dead in July 2015. The seminary is led by Maulana Sami-ul Haq, who has close ties with Afghan Taliban and is deeply involved in national politics.

The Maulana’s deep political influence across the country means that ‘prosaic electoral coalition reasons’ are behind Imran Khan’s party providing funds for daily functioning of the madrasa.

Analysts believe the PTI is trying to secure Haq’s loyalty ahead of the general elections in a couple of years to counter its political rivals, especially Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F.

Analysts point to Imran Khan’s history of back and forth on negotiations with the Taliban and his belief, if naïve, these groups are not a threat to him. The PTI simply does not see the TTP and Sami-ul Haq as equivalent.

Analysts point out that Imran Khan and the PTI might have been encouraged to think this way given the freedom and access that Sami-ul Haq enjoys in Pakistan. He regularly travels to Islamabad, has shared the stage with other right wing mullahs and has played go-between role with the TTP when the Pakistani Government was open to negotiations with the group.

The Haqqania madras leader, Maulana Sami-ul Haq, is the head of the notorious Defense of Pakistan Council, with Hafiz Saeed as his deputy, an umbrella organization of right wing groups formed in 2011 in response to the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Afghan border by US planes. The group played a big role in blocking NATO supplies to Afghanistan.

Further, the US-Pakistan relationship may be heading towards difficult times again with the recent killing of Mullah Mansour by the American forces and the Pakistani army ‘would be more cautious than adventurous from where they are sitting right now’.

Whether Imran Khan genuinely believes that the madrasas can be reformed and brought in to the mainstream is a question that will be answered in time, but law and order situation in the country continues to deteriorate with several prominent individuals being targeted over the last few days. Ovais Sajjad Shah, the son of the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, was kidnapped from outside a shopping mart and popular Sufi singer Amjad Sabri was shot outside his home, both incidents happening over the last fortnight in Karachi.

In this background, the party’s decision to support madrasas linked to jihadi groups has provided fodder to political rivals with which to beat PTI and can only be read as treacherous political calculations at its worst or dangerous naivety at its best. (ANI)