The law enforcement agencies recently raided several seminaries in different cities of southern Punjab, arresting 36 suspects. This is not surprising considering that this part of the province is home to a number of foreign-funded seminaries from where arose the so-called Punjabi Taliban.
Meanwhile, an interior ministry report on the implementation of the National Action Plan says so far 30 madrassahs have been placed in the ‘suspect’ category and closed down for having direct or indirect links with violent extremists. Two of these are located in Punjab, 15 in Sindh, and 13 in KPK.
The report also notes that Sindh is the only province where concrete action has been taken, closing down 72 unregistered seminaries. At present, mapping of madrassahs is under way in other provinces as well as the capital territory and Azad Kashmir for registration and reform.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has taken a strong exception to the raids in Punjab, saying a crackdown on religious institutions by security organisations and the police is unacceptable, and that he would convey the same to the Prime Minister.
It is sad that the Maulana should voice his support to terrorism suspects simply because of a religious connection. Indeed, not all seminaries have links with religious extremists, but in a number of terror incidents such elements were found to have received facilitative assistance from madrassahs and, at times, from some otherwise peaceful religious organisations and parties.
The security forces have not been acting blindly to arrest suspects. The August 4 Corps Commanders’ meeting was informed that since the Zarb-e-Azb operation started last year, the military supported by civilian intelligence and law enforcement agencies conducted over 9,100 intelligence-based operations (IBOs) to pre-empt terrorist backlash.
And that the IBOs are now being intensified to neutralise terrorist networks in urban areas. In other words, the law enforcement agencies have been conducting raids to nab suspects depending on actionable intelligence, and hence no one should raise any objection against it.
It is about time also to streamline the affairs of seminaries through mandatory registration and curriculum reforms. It may be recalled that the Musharraf government had ordered registration and audit of seminary accounts only to back off in the face of stiff resistance.
According to the interior ministry record, there are as many as 30,000 madrassahs, out of which ten percent are not registered and hence no one knows what goes on in them. Their owners still are insistent on defying the rules that apply to all normal educational institutions.
A simple but persuasive argument is that if they have nothing to hide, and they are faithfully imparting religious education (preferably as approved by the Pakistan Madrassah Education Board) they should have no qualms about registration and audit of accounts. So far the government had shown a woeful lack of will to take on the devious seminary proprietors because of their nuisance power.
Hopefully, the present environment is encouraging enough for the federal and provincial governments to ensure all seminaries register with the relevant authorities and submit details of the sources and use of funds; and they also comply with prescribed curriculums.