Jihadi Madrassas still operating.. almost freely

Daily Times, July 18, 2005
Jihadi madrassas alive and well

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: A World Bank study that found the number of “jihadi” madrassas in Pakistan much smaller than popularly believed has been questioned by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based humanitarian outfit.

In an article in the Sunday edition of Washington Post, Samina Ahmed, the Group’s South Asia project director and Andrew Stroehlein, its media director, claim that “Jihadi extremism is still propagated at radical madrassas in Pakistan” and that “these religious schools still preach an insidious doctrine that foments the sectarian violence that is increasingly a threat to the stability of Pakistan.” In a reference to the London bombings, they observe, “And now, it seems, the hatred these madrassas breed is spilling blood in Western cities as well.”

They maintain that President Pervez Musharraf’s promises “came to nothing” as his government never implemented any programme to register the madrassas, follow their financing or control their curricula. Although there are a few “model madrassas” for “Western media consumption,” the extremist ones account for perhaps as many as 15 percent of the religious schools in Pakistan and are “free to churn out their radicalised graduates.” They add, “For those in the West who believed President Pervez Musharraf’s promises to clean up the militant religious schools, it is time to think again.”

Noting that the madrassa bomber Shehzad Tanweer attended a madrassa run by Lashkar-i-Taiba in Lahore for four months, the madrassa and the organisation operate freely despite an official ban on their activity since 2002. After 9/11, the authors argue, Gen Musharraf “clearly felt the pressure to be seen as doing something, and in January 2002 he gave a televised speech promising a series of measures to combat extremism by, among other things, bringing all madrassas into the mainstream.”

According to the authors, “Musharraf pledged increased oversight of the religious schools through formal registration, control of their funding and standardisation of their curricula. The world welcomed those promises, but few then checked back to see if they were ever fulfilled. A conventional wisdom developed, especially in the United States, that Musharraf was doing all he could to help fight terrorism - Musharraf even became something of a media hero, our brave ally in the war on terrorism. The view that all is well with Pakistan has been bolstered most recently by a World Bank-funded report claiming, against other available evidence, that the country’s madrassa sector is smaller than previously estimated and suggesting that the religious schools pose no serious threat. London on 7/7 shows that analysis was deadly wrong.”

Ahmed and Stroehlein write that Lashkar-i-Taiba is an excellent example of how the Musharraf government has failed to curb extremist religious militants. Though formally banned in 2002, Lashkar-i-Taiba has renamed itself Jamaatud Dawa and continued its activities, including the promotion of jihad in Kashmir, where it has openly claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks, they state. They also point out that Lashkar leader Hafiz Sayeed was temporarily detained, but only under Pakistan’s Maintenance of Public Order legislation, not its much more stringent Anti-Terrorism Act. His detention was short. Prominent figures from this and other formally banned groups such as Sipah-i-Sahaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed appear to enjoy “virtual immunity from the law,” they add.

The article claims that the fact that Gen Musharraf has not acted against religious extremists and their madrassas is “hardly surprising” as he needs the religious parties to “bolster his military dictatorship against the democratic forces seeking to reverse his 1999 coup.” They go on to argue that the “radicals maintain their avenues for propagating their militant ideas, because the chief patrons of jihad, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islami and the Jamiat-i-Islami political parties, have acquired prominent and powerful roles in Musharraf’s political structure.” While the authors concede that the Musharraf government has captured or killed some 600 Al Qaeda members since 2001, they are of the view that the madrassas are churning out as many radicals as are being apprehended.

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