On Sunday, police and Rangers personnel raided several unregistered seminaries in Sukkur – seizing documents and phones, questioning the students and clerics, and taking four clerics in custody for further questioning.
The move is part of a crackdown on seminaries that spread extremism, as mandated by the National Action Plan (NAP), and was initiated during a high-powered meeting held on 5th June, attended by Sindh ministers and army personnel.
Such a crackdown has been unduly delayed and the Sindh government’s efforts to fulfil its responsibilities under the NAP must be appreciated.
Where other provinces and the federal government have dithered, Sindh has taken the initiative towards the endgame envisioned by the military operations – regulating seminaries, and thus regulating the environment that produces extremists.
That being said, the crackdown only targets the obvious, and easy, targets – individual unregistered seminaries, those with known links to terror groups and isolated clerics.
While these must surely be targeted, it does seem the government is only targeting these; ignoring the powerful seminary boards and bowing to their wishes, and thinly veiled threats, when it comes to implementing meaningful and long-term seminary reform.
Any long term solution to the problem of seminary-produced militants must contain these objectives – and the NAP positively mandates the completion of these – a crackdown against know terrorism facilitating seminaries, a extensive registration process; which insures that the identity of its teachers and the sources of its incomes can be thoroughly monitored, and a reform in the syllabus taught by these seminaries; so that the graduates become more tolerant and more employable outside niche religious markets.
Until Sunday the government had done neither; and even after that only the first objective is being tackled and that too in only one province.
The government was bound to face opposition from the seminary boards – as any government must when it tries to regulate a lucrative and unchecked industry – but it must not give up as easily as it has done.
The boards have been uncooperative in all negotiations, refusing legitimate demands, such as divulging the nationalities of teachers or detailing the identities of the students, and have refused to reform the syllabus point blank.
And after threatening “mass protests” the representatives of the boards have boycotted the last couple of meetings altogether.
Faced with such belligerence the government must not balk, while the boards command a certain street power the government carries with it the writ and power of the state, which can be used to cajole, incentivise and if need be, threaten these bodies into cooperation.
This task is easier than it was for past government who attempted this– such as Musharaf’s – since the public opinion favours the government’s narrative.
It is time that the government, both federal and provincial, live up to their duties under the NAP and to their duty to the people.