Madrasah reforms to eliminate terrorism from its roots
Madrasahs in Pakistan have been responsible for spreading the virus of terrorism as militant groups manipulate religion according to their extremist agenda.
Under the National Action Plan (NAP) the federal government was directed to regulate madrasahs as a counter-terrorism measure against extremist ideology.
The federal and provincial governments’ superficial and ineffective measures to implement madrassah reforms have until now proven futile.
According to a recent report, Sindh has closed down 2,311 seminaries, KP shut down 13, while Punjab has only closed two on suspicions of illegal activities.
Madrasah reforms mandate introducing English, Mathematics, and Computer to the curriculum in order to transform seminaries into educational institutions.
Furthermore, monitoring the funding and registration of these institutions and crackdown against those suspicious of having direct or indirect links with militancy is part of the reforms.
“The interior minister formed two committees for madrasah regulation but the problem lies in the implementation of the plan on the provincial level,” said Amir Rana, a senior security analyst.
Terrorism breeds from an ideology that is fed to the young minds in such madrassahs under the blanket of ‘religion’.
It has been a decade-long practice of terrorist groups to manipulate the masses into accepting extremism by fabricating religious ideology.
Moreover, the rejection of modern education methods leads to mental regression among a huge part of the population graduating from seminaries.
However, religious-political leaders continue to deny the fact that madrasahs are in fact breeding grounds for terrorism and must be monitored.
“Madrasahs do not promote religious extremism,” said Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Karachi leader, Qari Usman, while talking to DNA.
“Blaming religious institutions for breeding terrorism is just propaganda,” Qari Usman added.
Pakistan has been criticised internationally for sheltering terrorists and providing them with a secure ground for networking and spreading extremist ideology.
Recently, an Indian diplomat at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) accused Pakistan of becoming ‘world’s terrorist factory’.
Madrasah reforms mandate introducing English, Mathematics, and Computer to the curriculum in order to transform seminaries into educational institutions
However, the government backtracks on the implementation of the regulations once the religious right exerts pressure.
“Right wing political parties have a considerable influence on the reforms,” said journalist and human rights activist Marvi Sirmed.
“The network of madrassahs has strong support as almost every state institution is invested in it”.
Religious clergy distances itself from terrorism by claiming that they do not promote the extremist ideology that is propagated by militants.
Unless the government develops a counter-narrative that targets the roots of terrorism, the problem will persist.
“The government has no evidence to prove that madrasahs are responsible for promoting terrorism,” said Chairman of All Pakistan Ulema Council, Tahir Ashrafi.
“If the government has any evidence then they must expose it publicly”.
The new military operation, Radd-ul-Fasaad, aims to dismantle terrorist networks, however, the aggressive approach is not enough.
Authorities must address the fact that to eliminate terrorism, it must tackle the ideology which is the root cause.
“With these people in charge there is no hope for change as those involved in government support the ‘Madrasah Mafia’,” said Marvi Sirmed.
There have been several debates about whether terrorism should be linked to religion or not.
The religious right opposes madrassah reforms because they claim they have also been victims of terrorism.
However, the fact remains that militant groups promote their agenda by garnering support in the name of religion.
“Religious clergy across Pakistan denounces terrorism whether it is in the name of religion or race,” said Qari Usman.
Categorising madrasahs based on information that indicates whether they promote violence or not is useless as it gives more opportunity for militants groups working covertly to use this debate in their favour.
Furthermore, the differences on a counter-narrative become a hindrance towards developing an effective counter-terrorism strategy.
“Even if most madrasahs don’t promote violence they are affiliated with groups inciting sectarian violence,” said Marvi Sirmed.
Implementation of madrassah reforms is necessary to monitor the activities of institutions that are breeding grounds for terrorism.
Islamic clergy needs to assist in developing a narrative that condemns not just terrorism but also sectarian violence in order to clearly distance itself from militant groups.
The religious clergy must cooperate to develop an effective counter-narrative against terrorism and should cooperate with the government in monitoring and regulation of seminaries
“Ulemas agree to cooperate with the government to fight against terrorism but it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the implementation of any strategy,” said Tahir Ashrafi.
The religious clergy must cooperate to develop an effective counter-narrative against terrorism and should cooperate with the government in monitoring and regulation of seminaries.
Pakistan has been a victim of terrorism for too long and all stakeholders must ensure that action is taken against those promoting violence.
Lack of consensus on fighting terrorism from its roots is undeniably prolonging the problem and the authorities must be vigilant in their approach to serve the national interest.