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WASHINGTON: Balo­chis­tan’s minister for home and tribal affairs, Sarfaraz Bugti, has told the Voice of America radio that thousands of Afghan Taliban were still studying in seminaries across the province.

“There are many seminaries where Afghan Taliban are studying, and many are owned by the Afghan Taliban group,” Bugti told VOA’s Deewa Afghan service.

The report claimed that Pakistan had more than 30,000 madressahs, most of them legal, and adhering strictly to religious teaching. But thousands of them were not registered with the government and these were the “teaching grounds and recruiting points for militants and Taliban”.

Amin-ul-Hasnat Shah, the minister of state for religious affairs, told VOA that funds for most of these madressahs originate abroad, mostly in Arab countries. “The government is monitoring the money trail and how this money is spent and utilised by the madressahs. We want to ensure that these funds are not used for any suspicious activity or to promote extremism through Islamic seminaries in Pakistan.”

Mr Shah said the government “has pledged to reform these madressahs through registration and change of syllabus” and it was determined to “keep an eye on any extremism-related activities or links in these madressahs.”

Ihsan Ghani, chief of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, said the government was forming a new national counter-extremism policy, which includes reforming the madrassa system. The government had vowed to register all unregistered madressahs, he added.

The VOA said that it collected these statistics from Pakistani and Afghan intelligence officials and experts who told its correspondents that the abundance of unregistered madressahs across the country had led to an increase in militancy in the Afghan-Pakistan region.

“The schools nurture militants’ ideology and provide foot soldiers for the Taliban, who have been engaged in a bloody insurgency with the US-backed Afghan government for more than a decade,” the report added.

According to the report, much of the militant activity was centred in Balochistan, where 5,500 madressahs operate as boarding schools.

“Many of them are kept from government scrutiny and are breeding points for terror,” the report claimed.

Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesperson for the Afghan Mini­stry of Interior, told VOA that last month’s terrorist attack in Kandahar that killed five UAE diplomats was planned in Mawlawi Ahmad Madressah in Chaman.

The report also included statistics provided by the Balochistan government, estimating that more than 5,000 Afghans were studying at madressahs in the province. The Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah, reportedly operated a seminary in Kuchlak, Quetta, the report added.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2017