Reactions are mixed in Pakistan Monday over the assassination of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a top Pakistani Islamic cleric, regarded as the "Taliban’s Father" because of his influence over insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Family members confirmed that Haq was resting at his home Friday in Rawalpindi when he was killed with a knife.
The slain leader's son, Maulana Hamid-ul Haq, told local media that his father's security guard had gone to a nearby market when the attack occurred.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but authorities are investigating the incident.
Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist with knowledge of the Taliban, believes Haq’s assassination is political.
“Sami-ul-Haq’s assassins want to not only destabilize Pakistan, but the whole region. Top Afghan officials had recently contacted Maulana to play a role to bring the Taliban to the peace table,” Mir told VOA. “Maulana had always helped them, and this time, as well. He promised to play a role of mediating peace talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban.”
Last month, Afghan officials met Maulana Sami-ul-Haq in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and urged him to use his influence over the Afghan Taliban to convince them to hold talks with the government.
Haq had agreed to be a mediator, and also indicated that he was willing to host the Afghan peace talks if called upon.
Rahim Ullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist who has written extensively on Afghanistan and the Taliban, downplayed Haq’s influence over the Taliban.
“The Afghan Taliban have a different narrative. They say the Taliban movement was initiated by Mullah Omar from Kandahar province in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban regard Sami-ul-Haq as a teacher, but they do not necessarily agree with Haq’s ideology,” Yousafzai said.
Belqis Roshan, an Afghan senator, also downplayed the impact of Haq’s death on the Afghan peace talks, but for a different reason.
“Sami-ul-Haq’s death cannot affect the Afghan peace process in anyway, as somebody else will take his place,” Roshan told VOA. “It’s just like the Taliban, after Mullah Omer’s death, Akhtar Mansoor took the lead. And after him, Hibatullah did,” she said.
Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (CPH), a government body tasked with talking to the insurgents, declined to comment.
Sayed Ehsan Taheri, a spokesperson for the HPC, told VOA earlier this year that invitations were extended to key Pakistani religious scholars, including Haq, when Afghanistan was preparing to convene a trilateral conference in Indonesia, where religious scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia took part.
“We are hoping that Pakistan religious scholars like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, who see the war in Afghanistan as a legitimate jihad (holy war), would participate in the conference,” Taheri told VOA in April.
Jihad in Afghanistan
Mohammad Nadir Memar, a political analyst from eastern Afghanistan, believes Haq was a staunch supporter of jihad in Afghanistan, and that his followers will stick to his ideology.
“Unfortunately, his party still sees the Taliban war in Afghanistan as a legitimate jihad, and its members would keep the momentum of this so-called jihad going,” Memar said.
Tahir Ashrafi, president of All Pakistan Ulema Council, said Haq's death would further intensify the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
“If anyone thinks that jihad in Afghanistan will end with the death of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, he is mistaken,” Ashrafi told the Pakistani Neo TV channel over the weekend. “The assassination of Haq will further intensify the war to an extent that no efforts can stop it.”
Who was Sami-ul-Haq?
Sami-ul-Haq, 81, was head of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamist party that supports the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He had remained active in Pakistan’s politics since the 1980s. Haq was twice elected to the Senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s parliament.
The slain Islamist leader was the head of Darul-Uloom Haqqania, a religious seminary in northwest Pakistan that educated most of the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban movement.
Other Taliban leaders, including Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, Siraj ud Din Haqqani and Jalal ud Din Haqqani, also graduated from Haq's religious school, dubbed the University of Jihad, in the region.
Haq was known to be a key supporter of the Afghan Taliban's fight against the U.S.-backed Afghan government and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Taliban denounced Haq's killing, declaring it a "great loss for the Islamic world."
"He supported the oppressed Afghan nation during the Soviet invasion and American occupation of the country through his unforgettable services," the group said in a statement following Haq's assassination.
VOA’s Urdu service, Ayaz Gul and Mohammad Habibzada contributed to this story.