Pakistan accused of failing to reform Islamic schools

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's military government has failed to rein in Islamic seminaries that breed militancy, taking only cosmetic steps towards reform, an international think-tank said on Monday.

"Both the clergy and independent observers see the government's plans as measures aimed at assuaging international opinion," said the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report released on Monday.

Reforms introduced by decree last month bar foreign aid to Islamic seminaries, many of which produced Islamic militants who joined the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, and require them to register with the authorities.

Under the decree, only seminaries that offer a modern education alongside religious instruction are eligible for government aid.

The ICG report said there was a lack of commitment towards enforcing the ordinance on the seminaries, which are known as madrassahs.

"The bill does not envisage real intervention in the madrassah system, because the clergy is opposed," it said. "The law proposes no mechanism of enforcement or punishments for violations."

This meant the reforms were "cosmetic, lacked substance and legal muscle".

The government was unwilling to push for harder reform because the clergy remained a supporter of the ruling military and its Indian policy, it said.

The ICG said the narrow worldview of the seminaries and lack of modern civic education made them a "destabilising factor in Pakistani society".

It acknowledged that they provided free religious education, board and lodging and essentially served as schools for a third of Pakistan's children.


However, it said the fact that Islamic groups such as the majority Sunnis and minority Shi'ites and sub-sects had their own madrassahs with different syllabuses and interpretations of Islamic beliefs often led to sectarian violence.

The report recommended that any aid for madrassah reform should be tied to proof the reform represented a genuine commitment to promote a moderate, modern education system.

The report said the international community needed to take a firm line and keep up the pressure.

"Wavering by important international actors, especially the United States, will not only increase extremist threats to Pakistan but eventually also undermine global security and stability."

The report called on Pakistan to establish a regulatory authority to monitor the activities of religious seminaries.

It said it should immediately shut down those affiliated with banned militant organisations and prosecute religious leaders guilty of incitement to violence.

The authority should also monitor the sources of income of seminaries and keep a strict tab on foreign students who sought admission to them.

The ICG report came two months after the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in its annual report, accused the military government of failing to dismantle structures that promoted militancy and terrorism.

The government's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) is widely accused of links to Islamic militant groups, especially those fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.