RAWALPINDI, Jan 22: In the aftermath of 9/11, the number of foreign students studying in the madressahs of Punjab had dropped sharply but about 450 are still on their rolls and causing a bit of worry to the province's police.
A recent field survey of the madressahs by the Special Branch of the provincial police revealed that 289 of them are, technically, staying illegally in the country.
An overwhelming majority of them, 275, were found lodged in the madressahs in Lahore.
Many of the foreign students have been continuing their stay in the residential madressahs without fulfilling legal formalities, the field report said.
It suggested the Punjab government to direct local authorities to ensure the registration of foreigners at district police level to keep a watch on them on regular basis. Those found violating Pakistan's immigration laws “should be sent back” to their home country.
The report partly blamed the administration of madressahs for not paying attention to the legal status of the foreign students on their rolls.
In the face of West's ‘war on terror'— and description of the madressah system as “the breeding ground of Islamic extremists” — the former president Pervez Musharraf ordered, in 2005, that the foreign madressah students staying in Pakistan illegally must leave the country and the legal ones register themselves with the authorities.
Seven years later, the secret police has counted 444 resident foreign students in the madressahs all over Punjab. Interestingly the highest number, 135, came from Indonesia, the next highest were the 99 students from Thailand.
Other foreign nationalities studying in the Punjab madressahs are Kazakhstan (44), China (30), Philippines (28), Kyrgystan (21), Malaysia (20) and Myanmar (9), according to the survey report.
It suggested the provincial government seek action by the federal ministries of interior and foreign affairs against the 289 foreign students found not holding valid documents.
But it advised that before taking action the Wafaq-ul-Madaris, a body that manages the madressah network in Pakistan, be taken into confidence and approach the students’ diplomatic missions to provide security clearance for them. Asked for comments, the chief of the Wafaq-ul-Madaris Qari Mohammad Hanif Jalandhari told Dawn that when the visa of a foreign students expires, his madressah applies for an extension to the ministry of interior and that “normally the request is granted”.
“Terrorist attacks, security reason and wrong policies of the government are the main reasons for the local madressahs losing their attraction to foreign students, which was a source of building people-to-people contacts,” he said.
Today 444 foreign students are on the rolls of the madressahs in Punjab — 390 of them in Lahore alone. Only 115 students in Lahore madressahs hold valid visas, according to the special branch's report.
When the City Police Officer Rawalpindi Azhar Hameed Khokhar was contacted and asked about the status of foreign students in local madressahs, he said: “No foreign student has been studying in the Rawalpindi district as they had stopped coming to Pakistan due to security situation.”
But the special branch's field survey of the madressahs in Rawalpindi discovered four foreign resident students - one of them without a visa.
Likewise, of the 11 foreign students studying in the madressahs in Chakwal, five held no visa.
In contrast, all the 17 foreign madressahs students found in Gujrat were legal residents, as were the two studying in Khanewal madressahs.
In Attock, the survey found 12 foreign madressah students, with four continuing their studies without having valid visa, while the madressahs in Faisalabad had three foreign students with one found staying illegally.
Visas of three of the five foreigners studying in Rahim Yar Khan madressahs were found with expired visas.