Campaign against ‘radical’ seminaries going nowhere

23 Mar 2015


When Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said 90 per cent of seminaries were not involved in terrorism, he implied that at least 10 per cent were. But there has been no concrete action against such institutions so far.—AP File Photo
When Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said 90 per cent of seminaries were not involved in terrorism, he implied that at least 10 per cent were. But there has been no concrete action against such institutions so far.—AP File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Three months after the unveiling of the National Action Plan (NAP) and more than two months after Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s disclosure that perhaps 10 per cent of all madressahs were involved in terrorism, it appears that no government agency is ready to own the drive to identify these seminaries.

While the relevant officials in National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) and the interior ministry declined to comment on the issue officially, a senior Nacta official told Dawn off the record that the Ministry of Religious Affairs was the lead coordination agency for this effort.

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Similarly, an official from the interior ministry, who too was only willing to comment on condition of anonymity, said that the interior secretary had asked the religious affairs secretary to coordinate with seminaries over three matters.

Religious affairs ministry reluctant to take the lead; seminary boards resisting attempts at regulation

“These three matters are source of financing and especially foreign funding, madressah registration and monitoring,” he added.

Whether or not the government is willing to acknowledge this officially, it cannot be denied that on the face of it, the only government department which has been involved in negotiating with the seminaries publicly is the religious affairs department.

Just a religious matter?

Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousuf said that his ministry was focused on reforming the religious sector, streamlining madressah registration and facilitating the seminaries.

Officially, there is no news of the interior ministry or any of its departments having met representatives from the madressahs.

This means that government efforts vis-à-vis the seminaries are no different from past measures.

“We have held the meeting of the Madressah Education Board after 11 years and there is a proposal to establish an Islamic Education Commission on the lines of the HEC,” the minister said, adding, “These steps will correct the flaws in madressahs.”

Though the minister refused to explain what exactly he meant by “flaws”, he was adamant that the Ministry of Religious Affairs had nothing to do with terrorism or checking foreign funding to seminaries.

In his media statement on December 21, 2014 the interior minister had said, “Some 90 per cent of madressahs have no connection to terrorism – based on intelligence reports.”

By saying so, he implied that at least 10 per cent did have such links, which is the reason madressah reform was a major objective in the 20-point NAP.

A month later, on January 18, 2015, he reiterated, “The religious institutions are requested to cooperate with the government to identify potential terrorists.”

He also said that if there is any indication of any terrorist activity at a madressah, stern action will be taken immediately.

His words had the seminarians bristling, who threatened to launch a mass movement in case of a crackdown.

Subsequently, the interior ministry invited the five prominent Wafaq and the Jamaat-i-Islami to discuss the issue on December 30, 2014. However, at the last minute, the gathered clergy was told that the meeting would be chaired by the minister for Religious Affairs instead of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Since then, dialogue between the two sides has been no different from what happened under former president Pervez Musharraf and the PPP – bridging the gap between mainstream education and the madressah system.

But even this discussion has lost urgency as the frequency of meetings has decreased and the seminarians’ rhetoric about the consequences of these efforts has also reduced. In fact, the boards have already boycotted two meetings.

Financial questions?

It seems that like the interior ministry, the State Bank too is not interested in the nitty-gritty of shady transactions to the seminaries.

“The registration of seminaries will streamline all these issues as all madressahs will be required to have bank accounts and then, funding sources would be easy to trace,” a bank official said.

“There are two modes of legal money transfer – banking and exchange companies,” the official said, adding that the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) of the finance ministry is responsible for checking any abnormal transfers. Following the announcement of NAP, the FMU is said to be working closely with the interior ministry.

But chances are that seminary donations do not use traditional banking methods to receive money – it is said that their donations come via ‘hundi/hawala’ or in cash, even from abroad.

The hundi/hawala cases come under the domain of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which is also supposed to check the possible presence of money in the baggage of travellers at the airport, along with the Customs department.

There is little information of any special attention being paid to seminaries by these departments. The only ‘action’ being taken is the negotiation between the religious affairs ministry and a resentful body of madaris.

“We have said it before and we have said it now to this government too – we are not responsible for any terrorist, criminal or anti-social act of any individual affiliated with madressahs that are attached to us,” said Maulana Abdul Qudus, spokesperson for the Wafaqul Madaris al Arbia, the umbrella organisation that oversees most seminaries of the Deobandi sect in Pakistan.

“But people have even been booked for installing three loudspeakers, this is wrong.”

Similarly, Maulana Abdul Mustafa Hazarvi, Central Nazim-i-Aala, Tanzeemul Madaris Ahle Sunnat Pakistan – a Barelvi alliance – said that more than 7,000 clerics or mosque committee members had been arrested in Punjab on charges of reciting ‘Durood’ and ‘Salam’ before and after Azaan.

“After all this, the Punjab government on March 9 allowed the recitation of ‘durood’ and ‘salam’ along with Azaan,” he said, adding, “But no one took action against the terrorists – even the renegade cleric who has occupied a government mosque in Islamabad and continues to enjoy more rights compared to us, who have never been involved in any anti-state activity.”

Similar views were expressed by the office-bearers of Wafaqul Madaris al Shia, and Jamaat-i-Islami, who have repeatedly asked the interior minister to specify the names of madressahs involved in terrorism.

But the government has maintained silence.

It is hard to believe that the government has no proof. For instance, a report prepared by the special branch of Islamabad and Rawalpindi police identified seminaries that had close links with the TTP and could be used as bases for attacks.

But no action has ever been taken on basis of this report, which said that “well-trained terrorists, their leaders and commanders can also slip out of their hideouts in Fata and take shelter in the hilly areas of Abbotabad, Kakul, Nathia Gali, Murree, Aliot and Phagwari (Murree)”.

“It seems that the threat perception of the government is different,” said Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, adding that “there is no clarity over the issue”.

And unfortunately, the dialogue over curriculum and new registration forms for the seminaries is also going nowhere.

This is because the unified forum of five prominent boards representing seminaries affiliated with Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi and the Ahle Hadith sects and one board attached with madressahs run by the Jamaat-i-Islami have many reservations about the government’s suggestions, including the establishment of the Madrassah Education Board – a semi-autonomous body under the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

“The Wafaq does not trust the government,” said Khalid Rehman, director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), adding that “if anything serious is not done, nothing will change.”

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2015

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