The gruesome killing of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) head Maulana Sami-ul-Haq on 2 November, 2018, in Rawalpindi by unknown assassins comes as a strong reminder how complex is the scene and theatre of terrorism in Pakistan that even those considered very close to the perpetrators of violence are not spared by other terrorists. The JUI-S head’s killing, although not that significant as Maulana Sami was not a leading figure, nevertheless, his murder has huge symbolic value.
The JUI-S head was well-known and many Western media outlets dubbed him the “father of the Taliban.” He earned that titled because of his close links to the Afghan Taliban leadership as most of them, including their founder, Mullah Omar, studied at the Madrassa Haqqania located in Akora Khattak, Nowshera district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Madrassa Haqqania is owned by the family of Maulana Sami. However, it is important to note that it was the first generation of Afghan Taliban which studied under the tutelage of Maulana Sami and most of these leaders have perished during the last 25 years of continuous conflict in Afghanistan. Among the second generation of Afghan Taliban, Maulana Sami is not a very familiar figure. Therefore, if it is considered by certain observers that Maulana Sami has been killed because he could play a significant role in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiations table and could also prevail upon them to join the political mainstream in Afghanistan, then such an assertion is fundamentally mistaken. Here it may be recalled that, recently, the Afghan government sent a delegation of Afghan mullahs to Sami to convince him to play his role in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiations table. But we saw that Maulana could not play the role expected of him in this regard.
The most important aspect of the killing of Maulana Sami was the timing of the incident. The killing took place when another religious group Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) led by fiery cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, was holding sit-ins across Pakistan to protest the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) decision to acquit a jailed Christian woman, Asia Bibi. The Christian woman was charged with blasphemy in respect of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) way back in 2010. The TLP and other religious groups in Pakistan dubbed Asia’s acquittal as against Islam while the federal government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) threw its full weight behind the superior judiciary. The protest by the TLP became quite ugly and it was very much feared that the protest may spread. In the meanwhile, the gruesome killing of Maulana Sami took place. So the killing is related to the protest of religious parties on the acquittal of Asia Bibi. It is also important to note that the sectarian credentials of Maulana Sami and his group JUI-S are quite divergent from the sectarian school of the TLP but like most of the religious outfits Sami-ul-Haq had also vociferously condemned the acquitting of Asia Bibi.
During the protest of the TLP many unknown people were found active in the sabotage and violence.
The involvement of anti-Pakistan and anti-peace forces in the killing of Maulana Sami could not be ruled out. In particular the timing of the incident was such that the involvement of anti-state forces whether within the state or from outside Pakistan could well be believed. Obviously, the anti-state forces wanted to exploit the law and order situation which emerged after the verdict of the SCP in the Asia Bibi case and make it more explosive. The killing was also a bid to destabilize the PTI-led federal government of Pakistan, which already is facing several economic problems. Insofar as the involvement of foreign forces in the killing of Maulana Sami is concerned, then the hands of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies could be suspected. As Maulana Sami had close links with the Afghan Taliban and as the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani had also asked the former to play a role in facilitating the peace talks between the two sides, those forces within Afghanistan could be suspected of killing Sami which would lose power and influence in case the Taliban reconciled with Kabul and join the political mainstream and given a share in state power there. The infamous Afghan security establishment dominated by communist-era officials, who have been vehemently anti-Taliban and profoundly against them being given a share in power, may have killed Maulana Sami. It may be recalled that the Afghan security establishment’s anti-peace posture has been exposed on several occasions in the past. For instance, soon after the first-ever, and rare, peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban in Murree in Pakistan, the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) had revealed the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar and claimed that he had died two years earlier. Later the news turned out to be correct, but the Taliban termed it a stab in the back and consequently boycotted the second round of talks. Since then, peace in Afghanistan has remained a pipe-dream.
India traditionally has also not spared any opportunity to create unrest in Pakistan. In fact, India has always been trying to make Pakistan believe that the religious groups’ unchecked activities in Pakistan are a great threat to the country and regional peace. Therefore, Indian intelligence agencies could be suspected of killing Maulana Sami so, as earlier said, it could aggravate the unrest created by the TLP.
Maulana Sami was the head of the Pakistan Defense Council and had also found the Afghan Defense Council after the occupation of Afghanistan by US-led NATO forces in October 2001, dislodging the Afghan Taliban regime. The Afghan Defense Council culminated into the alliance of religious parties in Pakistan then named the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which contested the elections in 2002 as an alliance and won a record number of more than 60 National Assembly seats and had an opportunity of forming a government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. However, JUI-S although was instrumental in forming the MMA, was soon estranged from the two leading parties, the JUI-F and the Jamaat-e-Islami. When the MMA was revived before the 2018 elections, the JUI-S turned down requests from the JUI-F and the JI leadership to become part of the revived MMA. Instead, he formed an alliance with the ruling PTI. However, the PTI keeping in view the somewhat muddied credentials of Sami, distanced itself from him.
The killing of Maulana Sami may not have been of much consequence, but it is powerful indictment of the law and order situation in the country.