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Pakistan Fails Terror Test By: Kaushik Kapisthalam
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, July 23, 2004


Is America winning or losing the War on Terror? This was one of the questions Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked his staff in an October 2003 memo leaked to USA Today. Mr. Rumsfeld put special focus on radical madrassas, asking if the U.S. needed a "broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?" As things stand today, nowhere is that aspect of the War on Terror more crucial than in Pakistan.

Fonts of Jihad

While many Pakistani madrassas are places of Islamic scholarship, the World Bank estimates that 15-20 percent of them are associated with military training. While only a few Pakistani madrassas teach military skills, most of them do engender in their pupils a worldview filled with hatred of other faiths, thereby fostering an environment where violence against other faiths becomes an acceptable part of life. This is achieved through a poisonous interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed), based on the Wahhabi thinking. This ideology is developed with Saudi funding from places like the Islamic University of Medina and propagated by other Saudi-controlled foundations such as the
World Muslim League.

In the past couple of decades, owing almost entirely to Saudi money and influence, the emphasis in Pakistan's madrassa curriculum shifted from the standard pillars of faith, such as prayer, charity and pilgrimage, to the violent jihad. The madrassas now teach young students that the world is divided into believers and unbelievers. Jews, Hindus and Christians are routinely portrayed as evil usurpers. The curriculum emphasizes the need for Islamic warriors or jihadis to "liberate" regions dominated by unbelievers as well as "cleanse" Islamic nations in order to establish a single Islamic caliphate. The students are taught that the only means to achieving this Utopian state is by waging a near-perpetual war, pursued by any and all means, against the unbelievers. Thus one can see how Pakistan's burgeoning madrassa system has virtually become the font of global Islamic jihad.

Musharraf's Pledges

It is not surprising therefore that American officials have repeatedly urged Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to reform the radical madrassas in his nation. In January 2002, Musharraf made key pledges regarding madrassa reforms. They were:

1. By March 23, 2002, the Pakistan government would register all madrassas so that it had a clear idea of which groups were running which schools.

2. The government would regulate the curriculum so that all madrassas would adopt a government syllabus by the end of 2002.

3. The government would establish model madrassas that would provide modern, useful education and not promote extremism.

4. The government would adopt measures to stop the use of madrassas and mosques as centers for the spread of politically and religious inflammatory statements and publications.

None of these promises have even come close to fulfillment. In June 2002, Pakistan's
cabinet approved a new draft law entitled - "Deeni Madaris (Registration and Control) Ordinance." However, it only called for a voluntary, not mandatory, registration. Yet a week after the ordinance's proposal, Pakistan's government backtracked. Information Minister Nisar Memon called madrassas a "cradle of peace," and accused Western media "propaganda" of "maligning" the seminaries. Under pressure from hardliners, Musharraf quietly decided not to sign the ordnance into law. There has been no new effort to register the madrassas to date.

On the topic of regulating the curriculum, nothing was done until November 2003,
when Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat promised a new attempt to present a "unified syllabus" for madrassa students of all religious sects, pending approval by the cabinet the following month. To date, nothing has happened on this front either. The only area where the Pakistani government even made a token effort was with the establishment of "model" madrassas. But reports indicate that so far just three model madrassas have been set up, with 300 students in total. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the estimated 1.6 million students in the estimated 25,000 official madrassas in Pakistan. What makes it worse is that Pakistan has 25,000 to 40,000 "unofficial" madrassas catering to an equal number of Pakistani youth.

As for arguably the most important pledge, attempts to restrict the use of
madrassas as centers of jihad have been laughable. The government has made no effort to curtail madrassa related jihadi publications - the main sources of hate propaganda, which are openly circulated in Pakistan and even on the web. Some publications even openly give out their phone numbers and addresses, making a mockery of Musharraf's "crackdown." Time Magazine correspondent Tim McGirk, in a September 2003 report, noted that "banned" groups were able to openly recruit madrassa students for jihad in Afghanistan and elsewhere, despite a supposed government proscription of such efforts. Of late there have been reports of large-scale jihadi recruitment to send fighters to Iraq from big jihadi madrassas like the Jamat-ud-dawa Markaz in Muridke, near Lahore and the Binori Town madrassa in Karachi, even as the government watches on. It is to be noted that the top terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been linked to Binori madrassa based jihadi groups during his stay in Pakistan.

What Can America Do?

Currently, the U.S. policy on madrassa reform in Pakistan has been reduced to
blindly throwing money at the issue, hoping that the Pakistanis will fix the problem themselves. Recently, the US committed to a five-year, $3 billion assistance package to Pakistan, over and above other aid and loan deferments. Of this money, 50 percent is slated for non-military "development" purposes, with clear emphasis on building a secular education infrastructure. But there has been little follow-up. In a July 14 Senate hearing, Dr. Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute testified that of the $700 million in total aid to Pakistan this year, only $20 million is slated to go towards education reform. When one compares this to the $350 million that the Saudis send to Pakistan every year to fund radical madrassas, the futility of this effort becomes evident. Even if more money is available for reform, trusting the Pakistani government to use it judiciously is not advisable, based on its record.

For instance, Pakistan's education minister, Ms. Zobaida Jalal,
publicly declared that Pakistan's textbooks would be incomplete without teachings of jihad and called herself a "proud fundamentalist." The religious affairs minister Ijaz ul-Haq, who is in charge of madrassas, recently spoke at the launching of a book by a pro-Taliban cleric titled "Saleebi Dehshatgardi Aur Aalam-e-Islam" (Christian Terrorism and the Muslim World) where he said that anyone who did not believe in jihad was neither a Muslim nor a Pakistani. Mr. Haq went on to proclaim that given the "atrocities" perpetrated on Muslims today, he was prepared to act as a suicide bomber himself. It is no surprise that both have been denying that there are any problems with Pakistan's madrassas or their reform attempts.

Clearly, the push for reform needs to come from the US. First steps in that direction would include setting aside analytic resources within the US and in Pakistan, working with academic or non-government groups, dedicated to monitoring Pakistani madrassas, their curriculum and jihadi recruitment. The US should also press Gen.Musharraf to appoint a reform-minded person to oversee his government's actions in the madrassa reform field and undertake periodic review of the reforms' status. These efforts need to happen on a war footing. Marc Sageman, a CIA case officer and author of "Understanding Terror Networks" recently said that in the war against al-Qaeda, "military options have run out" and that the US needs "idea-based solutions." Unless the US seriously confronts the madrassa explosion in Pakistan, even idea-based solutions will run out of time.




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