It would only be iterating what has been said many times before that to win the battle against terrorism, we have to give a counter narrative and an alternative worldview to that of the terrorists. All sources of the extremist and bigoted worldview, sympathetic to the terrorist thought process, have to be plugged. In this context, the registration, supervision of syllabus, and audit of both local and foreign donations to the mushrooming madaris has to be taken seriously.
In this regard, it seems amending the constitution to insert a clause about military courts was easier than bringing about any meaningful reform in madaris. The two committees formed by the interior minister to suggest and implement reforms in madaris have yet to meet. The Religious Ministry is trying to interact with Ittehad-e-Tanzeemul Madaris (ITM) on a nine-point agenda without much success.
This is not to say that all madaris are involved in extremism, but quite a few of them certainly are. Many a times, our readers must have read about suicide bombers and their handlers having spent the night at a local madrassa before they carried out their deadly mission. Even the attackers of Army Public School were said to have spent a night at a local madrassa. Strong anecdotal evidence is available to suggest that madaris located in rural areas act as nurseries for suicide bombers who are picked up from these madaris while still very young.
Even if not involved in militancy directly, madaris are certainly proffering a retrogressive and narrow worldview with a literal interpretation of religion which is sympathetic to the militants’ thought process and extremist views about religion. Mostly children from the lowest economic stratums of society are enrolled in these madaris, who are kept in isolation and are taught through rote system and brutal physical punishment.
As no secular subjects are taught in a meaningful manner in most of these madaris, the students graduating from there are only qualified to become Imams or Muazzans. Only a few lucky of them get these jobs; and the rest usually end up as being fuel for religious and sectarian fires ignited by various extremist militant organisations.
The predominant views emanating from these madaris and their patrons — religious and political leaders who may not be involved in religious militancy themselves — is that militants are good Muslims, but only slightly misguided and could easily be brought on the right path, hence fighting against them is not necessary. This view of these religious and political leaders has unfortunately gained a lot of currency in the society as well.
The degree of insecurity generated by these madaris can be gauged from the fact that intelligence agencies have advised the government to close down all madaris in the vicinity of the parade avenue before the March 23 parade. It is, however, quite clear that the government has no will, strategy, vision or long term policy to deal with these madaris and reform them. The ITM is quite aware of this dithering attitude of the government and thus seems to be in no mood to cooperate with the government on any meaningful reforms, which regulate or curtail the autonomy of madaris.
The inability of the government in dealing with madaris and their caretakers can be ascertained from Interior Minister Ch. Nisar’s statement in the US. He told the US authorities that cleric of the Red Mosque, Abdul Aziz, could not be arrested, in spite of an arrest warrant issued by a local court, because of a feared backlash from the conservative and religious segments. One is at a loss to understand that if a full-fledged military operation could be launched against militants with all attendant risks of backlash then how come action could not be taken against the Imam of Lal Masjid.
The interior minister, during the same trip, told a gathering of Pakistanis in Britain that madaris should not be blamed for extremism as a large number of them is providing free boarding, lodging and education to the poor students. Providing at least primary education to all children is the responsibility of the government which has been appropriated by madaris.
The government’s database about madaris is also quite sketchy. The ITM, in order to overawe the government, is now giving an inflated figure of 40,000 madaris in the country. The bone of contention between the government and madaris is about registration, supervision of syllabus and audit of funds, both local and foreign. These madaris, which act as a political constituency and a source of foreign donations for many religious parties and their leaders, are jealously guarded against an infringement on their autonomy. Foreign donation given to these madaris is a great source of sectarian strife in Pakistan.
The current government’s policy towards madaris is lacking in both will and capacity. The interior and religious ministries are seen as passing the buck between each other. After the 18th Amendment, the overseeing of madaris has become a provincial subject. But the provincial legislatures have done no legislation, so far, in this regard. The government’s just demand of not to enroll foreign students under the prevailing international situation is rejected on the pretext that if other universities of Pakistan are allowed to enroll foreign students, then why should the madaris be not allowed to do so.
If the existential war against terror has to be won, a strict policy of registration and regulation of madaris has to be formulated. According to US-based Pakistani academic, Moeed Yousuf, if terrorism is to be defeated, first its source has to be tackled. Secular subjects and humanities must also be introduced in madaris to broaden, enlighten and moderate the worldview of its alumni.
Foreign donations, especially from certain brotherly countries, must be thoroughly audited. If any foul play is found, action should be taken not only against the concerned madaris, but the case must be taken up with donor countries.