ISLAMABAD: The top civilian and military leadership – in a rare meeting with representatives of religious seminaries – made it abundantly clear on Monday that the government intended to register and streamline their working at all costs.

According to those present in the meeting, both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif were willing to listen to the legitimate concerns of members of the Tanzeem Ittehadul Madaris (TIM). However, neither one of them minced words in getting the message across that no madressah would be spared if found involved in any kind of extremism or terrorism-related activities.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is the point person for the implementation of the National Action Plan, had a two-hour brainstorming session with TIM leaders, after which another two-hour session followed, where the prime minister and army chief responded to queries of religious scholars.

In both the meetings, a senior government official who is actively involved in the registration of madressahs, said that the interior minister, the prime minister and army chief took pains to explain that the government had launched an indiscriminate operation against all madressahs who were suspected of having links to terrorists.

At one point, the government official said, the prime minister told the participants that if somebody had any doubts that the government was going easy on madressahs based in Punjab, they were absolutely wrong.

Talking to Dawn, Sahibzada Abdul Mustafa Hazarvi – one of the clerics present in the meeting – said that the TIM had issues with the registration form and the ongoing ‘reckless’ crackdown on seminaries.

He said, “Both the army chief and the prime minister assured us that in the future no such crackdowns will take place.” However, he said, “The army chief categorically said that if someone was found guilty of any wrongdoing as enshrined in NAP, the madressah concerned and its administration would have to face the consequences.”

Mr Hazarvi said that the participants were told that provincial governments were conducting these raids on their own. However, “We have been assured that in the future, the federal government will play the role of a coordinator if the need to raid a madressah arose.”

Dr Syed Mohammad Najfi, another participant of the meeting, said that unlike during the General Pervez Musharraf and the PPP government, this time it seemed the leadership was serious in taking the registration and restructuring of madressah education to its logical conclusion.

He said the questionnaire the government had first prepared was too complicated as it carried scores of irrelevant queries. “In response to our complaints, the government has agreed to redesign the registration under the leadership of Mufti Muneebur Rehman.”

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2015

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