Where the Taliban's warriors for Islam are born

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The Independent Online

Tajikistan's Islamic "liberators" in Pakistan are more than willing to talk to us. Rashed el-Haq insists that we meet them. And sure enough, down a narrow passageway, the young men are gathered, bearded, smiling, crying "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great), posing before posters that show the Russian bear skewered with a green Muslim flag.

Abdul-Raouf - there are no student family names for us at the Haqqaniya, the great mosque and its religious school opposite the railtrack from Peshawar - grasps my arm. "We would like to make an Islamic revolution in Tajikistan and we believe in the rebirth of Islam in Tajikistan," he shouts.

"The great light of Islam will shine upon our country. It is the promise of God for us." His face is thin, his beard pointed, his eyes alight with conviction. Abdul-Raouf, aged 22, and his fellow students in the madrassah religious school founded by Mullanah Abdul el-Haq have only recently taken leave of their Chechen colleagues, young men who - after a year of Koranic teaching at Akora Khattak - have returned to their country to fight theRussians.

The Al-Haq college stands for everything the Americans and Russians most fear: a Taliban factory, an ideological school run by 70 teachers from Pakistan and Afghanistan for thousands of international Islamists who wish to struggle for a united Muslim nation in South-west Asia. And if that Muslim union includes most of the former southern Soviet republics, Afghanistan and even Pakistan, then the Haqqaniya will have played its role. AsAbdul-Raouf puts it when I ask about his former Chechen classmates: "They are our brothers and if they need help, we can give it to them."

The madrassah, founded by Rashed el-Haq's grandfather in 1974, was school to all the present Taliban leadership in Kabul and a new four-storey boarding hostel for 3,000 students shows that this is an expanding project rather than a dying ideal.

If the Pakistani authorities like to assure Western leaders that such institutions are a thing of the past, it is instructive to note that eight Pakistani policemen, in black uniforms and holding Kalashnikov rifles, live within the complex, guarding Mullanah Sami el-Haq - Rashed's father - and his students. They arrived in 1998, on the orders of the now-deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, for "security reasons".

On the ground floor of one building, a number of young students are crouched over volumes of Islamic teaching. This is the "fatwa" room - the Dar el-Fatwa, the house of edicts - where they are trained to be muftis, those who will provide religious justification for any act carried out in the name of Islam, from marriage to punishment to war.

Nor is the huge college at Akora Khattak steeped in the past. The madrassah runs its own publishing house and has gone hi-tech. Its computer room is managed by Sajjat Khan, who is already constructing a website and communicating via the college's e-mail: haqqania@nsr.pol.com.pk. Mr Khan promises me that after two weeks he will have the college's website in action.

Rashed el-Haq hands me a copy of the latest edition of the blue-covered college magazine. Articles include reports on life after death and a visit to the college by an Indian Muslim scholar, Mollanah Sayed AbulHassan ali nadawi, who spoke about Afghanistan's "holy way" against the Soviet Union. Rashed apologised for the absence of his father, Sami, who was in Lahore organising protests against President Clinton.

Intriguingly, another report in the magazine shows just how interested Western embassies have become in the college. "Last week," the latest edition reports, "two British diplomats from the political section of the British High Commission, Mr Rowan Laxton and Mr Richard Johnson, came to visit our school and held discussions about the Taliban's support for [the Saudi dissident] Osama bin Laden and the situation in Chechnya. The representative of the school told the Britons they should pass on a message to their government that it should change its policies towards the Taliban."

The magazine says the British were criticised for their silence over Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya and urged to adopt an independent view of the Kashmir crisis because of Britain's historical involvement in the region.

Rashed el-Haq, walking me round the campus in his robe and soft pashtu hat, insists that the college costs only one million rupees a year to run (a mere £13,000) but agrees that its funding comes from around the world - "not from countries, just from individuals". Which is what I call a likely tale. "All the major Islamic leaders in this area were students of my grandfather and father," he says. "Especially the Taliban. The Islamic revolution is very near, 'Inshallah' [God willing]." Rashed's grandfather - whose bound works have an honoured place in the college library - is buried in a special plot beside the college, with his wife and sister. The soft pebble-rush of pouring concrete emerges from the hostel next door where workmen are completing a new fourth floor.

The military takeover of Pakistan last October left the college untouched. "In fact, we were happy because the majority of members of the Assembly were dishonest people," Rashed el-Haq says.

"This was not a real democracy - and a real democracy is what we are struggling for in Islam. For 50 years, since the foundation of Pakistan, we have been waiting for real Islamic law to be introduced."

Suddenly, the voice of Rashed el-Haq sounds like that of General Pervez Musharraf, military ruler of Pakistan. For are not their aims similar? Do they both not demand an end to corruption? Do they both not denounce Nawaz Sharif's rule as a fake democracy?

So why should Pakistan heed Washington's demands by closing down the Taliban factory in Akora Khattak?

Yet other remarks show how far the college has gone in espousing everything the Americans, and the Russians, hate. As we walk past the madrassah's delicate blue and white tiled mosque, Rashed el-Haq, who spent a year at the Islamic university of Al-Azhar in Cairo and speaks Arabic with a thick Egyptian accent, becomes emotional. "There is, believe me, going to be an Islamic revolution," he says. "The more the United States and the Western world, and the nations which murder Muslims, oppress us, the sooner there will be an Islamic republic. Our morale is high and it's possible to have an Islamic Union all over this area and we want to create such a union - like the EU and Nato."

Nato, I ask? Rashed el-Haq is thinking in military as well as ideological terms. "If India and other Western countries make a nuclear bomb, everyone accepts this, it's OK. But if one poor Muslim nation like Pakistan makes a bomb then everyone is against it and it becomes an Islamic bomb. If the Hindus make a bomb, it's not a Hindu bomb. But the Muslims who make a bomb are called fundamentalist terrorists."

And I find another point of contact between the Al-Haq college and General Musharraf. For Rashed el-Haq, and the students of the Akora Khattak madrassah, and the Pakistani general, the bomb is a symbol of pride that is there to stay.