Schools Vow to Resist Deportation Plan

Islamabad, Pakistan - A coalition of thousands of Islamic schools vowed Sunday to resist a Pakistani government plan to deport their foreign students, calling the proposal immoral.

The statement came three days after the government appeared to back away from a Dec. 31 deadline for foreign students at Pakistani Islamic schools — long considered breeding grounds for militants — to leave the country or face expulsion.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's expulsion order was issued after reports that at least one of the suicide bombers who attacked the London transport system in July had visited a Pakistani seminary, or madrassa, with known militant links.

About 200 clerics and their supporters from some 12,000 Islamic seminaries met in the capital, Islamabad, to oppose the expulsion plan.

"The convention expressed concern about the harassment of madrassas over foreign students and decided that no student will be returned," said the Coalition of Administrators of Religious Schools in Pakistan.

"Every student has the right to get education in an atmosphere of freedom, especially when he has all complete legal documents," it said.

The clerics called the government's proposal "inhuman, immoral and totally illegal."

On Thursday, Interior Minister Aftab Khan denied foreign students were being forced out of the country by year's end, saying that "there is no deadline for it."

Musharraf has urged the seminaries to teach modern subjects and to register with the government, in a bid to bring them under state control.

There are 13,500 Islamic seminaries many of which operate on funds provided by private donors. They provide free schooling and board to at least 1.1 million students, many from poor families.