Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pakistan - Madrassa reform ???

It has been seven months since the inception of the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism in the country. During this time, unfortunately, the government has not achieved NAP’s objectives, particularly the goal of speedy and decisive trials for suspected terrorists through the Anti-Terrorism Courts, which were set up for this very purpose. One of the points of NAP calls for a state ban on the propagation of intolerance and extremism by any means. Until just recently, the implementation of this objective was limited to banning the use of loudspeakers in mosques to prevent the spread of hate-speech. However, the recent police investigations into madrassas (seminaries) in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi seem to suggest that NAP is finally being implemented, at least in part. Although not all madrassas have fundamentalist curriculums or extremist agendas and some, if not most, are actually doing good work, in the current security climate, they cannot go unchecked. Children in madrassas are often at risk of psychological, physical and sexual abuse. More troublingly, according to reports, a significant number of madrassas have become recruitment centres for terrorist organisations, breeding future militants through teachings based upon on distorted, fundamentalist Islamic views, and are funded by questionable sources. According to some estimates, there are some 35,000 madrassas operating in the country, yet there is no record of the registered and unregistered madrassas. In the current security situation, this level of ignorance cannot be afforded.

One of the reasons that madrassas have gone unregulated for so long is that the religious lobbies have resisted any checks on seminaries by the state. It is a positive development that law enforcement officials are now looking into madrassas, but it is still unclear what steps will be taken against those that are found to have nefarious purposes or dubious connections. Religious bodies tend to be concerned about state intervention in seminaries, but it is definitely possible to monitor, regulate and, if needed, reform madrassas while avoiding governmental overkill. Perhaps an academic input would be useful. It is high time for the state to set up a regime that routinely monitors the staff, funding, financial dealings, curriculum and students enrolled at madrassas. Surprise inspections and feedback from students would also help ensure that the workings are above board and transparent. For the long-term, Pakistan needs to have an education regulation system in place that keeps a close check on madrassas and also mainstream schools, both public and private. The possibility that Pakistan’s children are being exploited, brainwashed and turned into brutal terrorists in seminaries is far too dangerous to ignore. The police investigations into madrassas are a welcome endeavour and any madrassas found affiliated with terror groups should be shut down and action taken against the people involved.

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