Just about every terrorist attack in the last decade, it appears, has emerged from Pakistan’s unregulated madrassas. These religious schools, operating without government regulation, have become incubators of hate and tolerance. And, as a report in this paper on March 26 revealed, the current dispensation, much like the one that preceded it, has been unable to make any progress on that front. About six months ago, the interior ministry and the Tanzeem-e-Madaris Pakistan came to a ten-point agreement to enforce a uniform curriculum, ensure that madrassas do not teach hate literature and register all foreign students, among other things. Needless to say, this has not yet been enforced by the government. Indeed, the government has not even set up a committee to deal with madrassa reform yet.
The government’s inability or unwillingness to tackle madrassa reform is reminiscent of previous failed efforts by General Pervez Musharraf. In a speech in June 2002, Musharraf had promised to do much of what the PPP government is now supposed to enforce. Among his proposals, Musharraf called for the modernisation and regulation of madrassas to integrate them with Pakistan’s mainstream educational system. He conspicuously failed to do so despite earmarking more than $100 million for the task. After the Lal Masjid seige of 2007, Musharraf pledged once more to tackle the madrassa problem. Again he did not do so.
If anything, the problem has become worse since then. Unregulated and unregistered madrassas continue to proliferate and are still providing militant groups with fodder for terrorist attacks. Islamabad in particular has seen a mushrooming of madrassas since the Lal Masjid attack, funded by wealthy businessmen at home and expatriates from the Gulf. It is estimated that there are dozens of such madrassas, and students from at least one of them were involved in a militant attack at the Parade Lane in Rawalpindi. Apart from providing a steady stream of foot soldiers to militant groups, they are responsible for the ideological brainwashing of yet another generation of Pakistanis. For the government to be so tardy in pursuing real and meaningful madrassa reform shows just how blind they are to this threat. Fighting militancy will be ineffective unless its ideological root is also tackled.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.