Difficult, yet necessary
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| 8/5/2015 12:00:00 AM
OR over a decade now, the state has struggled with the issue of madressah reform. The matter gained prominence during the Musharraf era, when Pakistan`s internal militancy problem and the changing geopolitical calculus forced the state to re-examine the role of seminaries. The link between hard-line madressahs and sectarian and jihadi militancy began to be increasingly discussed, while in more recent times, in the aftermath of the Peshawar Army Public School massacre, madressah reform was given new vigour under the National Action Plan. However, while efforts are being made by the state to register and regulate seminaries, the process overall remains cumbersome and seems to lack motivation.

For example, as reported in this paper, in Sindh the provincial government seems to be shifting responsibility on to the centre for failing to push forward the reforms process. Provincial officials say Islamabad is delaying reforms by not issuing clear guidelines, apparently to prevent a backlash from religious parties. Yet it is also true that the Sindh administration has been slow in closing down unregistered madressahs something that does not require the goahead from the federal capital.

It would be wrong to say that all madressahs preach terrorism and extremism. Yet enough of these institutions indulge in extremist indoctrination and play host to militants or their sympathisers for the state to take action where their registration and monitoring is concerned. For example, it was recently reported that 115 individuals linked to banned outfits were `teaching` at madressahs in the Rawalpindi district. If this example of the garrison city is anything to go by, it can be well imagined how many militants or their sympathisers `teach` at the thousands of madressahs spread out across this land. Secondly, unregistered seminaries are a clear security risk, for the state has no reliable idea about the students or faculty at these institutions. Looking at two urban areas alone Rawalpindi and Karachi based on reported figures, it seems that there are 1,300 unregistered madressahs. Again, magnify this to the national level and it is not something that can be ignored by the government.

Madressah reform is difficult but not impossible. It is difficult because for decades, the state ignored and even encouraged the mushroom growth of seminaries for its own strategic ends. Also, it is believed that the government fears a backlash from not only the mainstream religious parties, which have a power base within the madressahs, but more ominously from the militant groups which have a support network in hard-line seminaries. Yet despite the difficulties, the state must march ahead with the reforms process.

All madressahs must be registered and those found preaching hatred against any sect, religion or group, or providing fronts for banned outfits, must be closed down. Does the state have the wherewithal to do what needs to be done on this crucial front?