Clerics oppose madrassa demands

Lahore, Pakistan - Senior clerics in Pakistan say they will not meet a government measure to register religious schools unless a demand to disclose funding is dropped.

Following the London bombings in July, President Pervez Musharraf renewed a longstanding demand for all madrassas to register with the authorities.

He also ordered the expulsion of all foreign students by the end of 2005.

This is the first concrete response by the five education boards that oversee the madrassas.

They say they will only drop their opposition if the government ends its demands for them to disclose where they get their funding from.

Court ruling

The clerics said they would protest against the demand that the madrassas expel all foreign students.

They also questioned a recent Supreme Court decision that in effect bars those who have attended madrassas from holding public office, a ruling that could affect hundreds of candidates who stood in last month's local elections.

The madrassa leaders say they do not understand why these qualifications have become illegal now when they were acceptable during the general elections three years ago.

The government says it wants to integrate the thousands of privately-run madrassas into the country's education system.

President Musharraf first called on madrassas to register with the government in 2002, months after the 11 September attacks - a move that was welcomed in the West.

However, more than three years on, less than half of Pakistan's madrassas are registered and some critics say this shows General Musharraf has not been serious about curbing religious extremism.

Under international pressure to prove his critics wrong, he has also ordered Pakistani madrassas to expel all foreign students after it emerged that one of the London bombing suspects visited a madrassa in Lahore shortly before the attacks on 7 July.