Thousands Of Islamic Zealots
Ready To Meet Fire With Fire
By Zahid Hussain
The Times - London

HIS grey beard coloured with henna, a frail, black-turbaned Maulana Samiul Haq sits cross-legged on a carpeted floor discussing the concept of jihad with a visiting Egyptian Islamic scholar. The pupils who crammed into the room listen in rapt silence.

Head of Pakistan's largest Islamic seminary, Mr Haq is a fiery orator and influential Islamic religious leader. He is at present leading a campaign against possible American military action against Afghanistan. "Any such action will set Pakistan and the entire region on fire," he said. "No American citizen would be safe in this country."

Situated on Grand Trunk Road near Peshawar, Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqani is Pakistan's leading Islamic institution, and it is also seen as the cradle of the Taleban movement that now rules Afghanistan.

More than 90 per cent of the leadership of Islamic militias have graduated from this school. It is also a recruiting place for dozens of Pakistan's militant groups fighting Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Most of the three thousand students at the school are from Afghanistan and from former Soviet Central Asia. Some of them have already taken part in "holy wars" in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

"Jihad is an essential part of Islam," Mr Haq said. He denies that the school provides military training or encourages pupils to join jihad during academy sessions.

Earlier this year the school was a venue for an anti-American conference in which all militant Islamic groups participated with their armed supporters in guerrilla uniforms. A proliferation of jihadi organisations in Pakistan is a result of the militant culture espoused by a growing number of madressas (religious schools). Hundreds of thousands of Islamic zealots produced by the Jamia Haqqani and other madressas across the country are ready to take to the streets against President Musharraf of Pakistan should he decide to support military action against the Taleban.

Mr Haq has already started mobilising anti-American public sentiment and is expecting an attack in a few days.

As the head of the Afghan Defence Council, an umbrella organisation of some 40 Islamic groups and political parties, he has called a meeting of the group to plan action in the event of a military strike against Afghanistan. "We will urge the people to come out on the streets and revolt against the Government if Pakistan airspace is used for an attack on our Muslim brothers," he said.



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