Pak madrasas creating atmosphere of intolerance

Washington, USA - A US commission on religious freedom expressed deep concerns over links between Pakistan's extremist groups and ISI, saying some of the madrasas in the country are creating "an atmosphere of intolerance".

"The largely unchecked growth of Islamic extremist groups, whose members take part in violence targeting religious minorities in Pakistan and who are linked to international terrorism in the region and beyond is a concern, as is the reported relationship between religious extremists and elements in the Pakistani military, particularly Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISI," said Felice D Gaer, chairperson of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, advisory body of the American government.

"The commission is also concerned about the alleged role of Pakistan's Islamic schools, or madrasas, in providing ideological training to religious extremists and in creating an atmosphere of intolerance in which abuses of religious freedom are more likely to occur," Gaer said at a public hearing on 'Pakistan: The Threat of Religious Extremism to Religious Freedom and Security'.

She said the impact of religiously based intolerance, extremism and violence is of concern, including harsh restrictions on the equal rights of women to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Opposing the recent peace deal between Government and the militants in Pakistan's restive northwest region, she said: "The Pakistan government's apparent willingness to accommodate certain violent extremists, as we recently saw in the Swat valley, where they imposed - with government approval - their own particularly harsh interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law, is an ongoing concern."

Gaer said the women have been particularly victimized by the highly abused blasphemy laws, which often result in prolonged detention without charges of and sometimes violence against members of religious minority communities, as well as against some Muslims on account of their religious beliefs. Women have been particularly victimized by these laws.

"Official government policies are also of concern, such as the anti-Ahmadi laws, which prevent the Ahmadis from engaging in the full practice of their faith," she said.

Gaer rued that despite the commission's view that Pakistan has repeatedly, "engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right of freedom of religion and belief," the State Department has not followed the commission's recommendations.