Through a coordinated move of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, madrassas — presumably the main source of nurturing extremism and militancy in the country — are once again in the spotlight. This time, a surgical action aims to eliminate the sources of funding and shelters of terrorists.
In order to implement the National Action Plan of Pakistan after December 16, 2014 attack on Army Public School Peshawar, a gradual strategy to take on militancy has finally led to the process of geo-tagging of madrassas across the country.
The provincial governments are supposed to complete this process. Random search operations on the basis of intelligence reports are being carried out. A process of pinpointing non-registered madrassas and their financial audit is also on the way — to be executed in the next few months.
Under the 20 points of NAP, defined in December 2014, a number of steps relate to the check on seminaries. These include checking and blocking sources of terrorist funding; evolving a system for registration of religious seminaries and blocking of fund resources to terrorists; controlling hate literature and propaganda that promotes sectarianism, extremism and intolerance along with effective action against newspapers and periodicals involved in such practices.
Though there is division among the different representatives of madrassas on this ongoing ‘crackdown’ by the state, resistance to the implementation strategy seems a lot less than before.
Except for Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan, other provinces have completed the geo-tagging of madrassas as a first step, leading to checking their registration as the next step. The Punjab government has completed the geo-tagging of 13,794 seminaries in the province. In Balochistan, mapping of more than 4,000 Islamic seminaries has been done,” says a National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) official while talking to TNS on condition of anonymity.
The Sindh government too has recently started the geo-tagging of around 10,000 madrassas expected to be completed within a month. Geo-tagging is an electronic mapping of seminaries that would be placed with the law enforcement agencies. It would help the authorities in quickly identifying the geography of a seminary when needed and to identify the place, enabling the authorities to make available the required data for any place they desire.
“Geo-tagging, checking and auditing the financial sources of seminaries, not allowing them to become shelters of terrorists, are the key steps to be taken in the coming few months,” a senior official of the Punjab police tells TNS. These steps, he says, would help put consistent checks on Islamic seminaries and in categorising them. In the next big step, geo-tagging of other religious places — Imambargahs, churches, and temples would also be done that would be followed by geo-tagging of mosques, according to him.
Religious groups have resisted such checks on seminaries by the state in the past but this time the opposing strategy is not hard. “We have reservations on the new policies but we are ready to talk to the authorities,” says Hanif Jullandhry, secretary general of Wafaqul Madaris Deoband. He opposes the raids on madrassas and the new forms of registration with so many details. “We want to implement the agreement with the previous government. The registration form asks unnecessary details about the students and their families’ bio-data that the government can easily get from NADRA through their CNIC.”
He says there are raids being conducted on madrassas across the country almost every day but no proof is being shown of any evidence linked to any terrorist or such incident. He urges the government to publicly share if there is any such information collected after this ‘crackdown’.
On the other hand, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, another prominent Deobandi leader who has made Tahaffuz-e-Madaris-e-Dinea, has extended full cooperation to the government. “We have helped the government in registering and geo-tagging more than 13,000 seminaries and there is no reason to oppose it,” says Ashrafi. He also urges the government and law enforcement agencies to ask the madrassas and their leaders to take back all those decrees issued in favour of suicide attacks and against Pakistani forces fighting against terrorism.
During General (r) Pervez Musharraf’s regime in 2003, the government allocated about $50 million annually to provide assistance to registered seminaries, especially by paying the salaries of teachers hired to teach non-religious subjects and to start computer classes but the amount remained underutilised. After the Musharraf regime, former President Asif Ali Zardari also announced to have more control over seminaries but the objective remained unachieved. In 2008, the then prime minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani made an announcement to set up a Madrassa Welfare Authority — a seminary reforms project under PM’s 100 days programme. The Madrassa Welfare Authority, however, failed to cooperate. Seminaries refused to enlist and demanded to be registered under the Companies Act, refusing also to provide other required details i.e., number of students, boarders, sources of funding, etc. The government also failed in expatriating foreign students.
Amir Rana, director Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), says that this time everybody including political parties are on board and since Pakistan Army is leading the NAP so there is no resistance from seminaries. “However, it seems NAP lacks clarity in having a detailed policy. Currently, the actions are being taken keeping in view the security perspective and the institutional reforms are still neglected,” he says, adding, “Such actions might prove a timely pressure.”
A.H. Nayyar, a former professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, also thinks that the direction of authorities seems right in the present situation but details of the strategy are missing. “What will happen is not clear. Also, it seems seminaries would be reluctant talking about their financial sources.”
He feels the need of a prolonged struggle in coming years through different ways along with these surgical actions to ensure that seminaries are not used for terrorism in future. “It is not an easy task at all. It needs long term and comprehensive strategy that seems difficult unless we follow with commitment. To increase the chances of success, we have to make a national agenda irrespective of the government in power.”